On Thursday, 14th July, 2016, I watched with great interest, the discussion of the European Parliament on petitions from Malta, Spain, Italy and Bulgaria. These petitions raised questions about a lack of clear contract information, incorrect metering and excessive billing. One of them, petition 1737/2013, was mine.
Several things struck me as I watched:
1. The robotic responses of the European Commission representatives, who seemed to not have an understanding of the human subtext behind the petitions. When the Commission representatives summarily stated that nothing further could be done, it reminded me somewhat of doctors presenting a stoic, apparently callous, face to grieving relatives as they dispensed some poor prognosis.
To be fair, the EU Commission has to operate within some rigid parameters. It has to tread a fine line between acting on the woes of the petitioner, and not stepping on the toes of any member state. If the latter occurs, then the EU is depicted as interfering and overstepping its remit. On the other hand, if the petitioner is unsatisfied with the proposed solution, then it is a PR disaster for the European project, as many petitioners apply to the European Parliament, as MEP Mr Malinov said, as a last resort.
I appreciate all this. However, in the current post Brexit EU, I truly believe that something needs to be done to break this impasse.
MEP Mr Dzhambazki’s passionate speech regarding the EU Commission’s ineffective handling of the Bulgarian petitions resonated with me. “Democracy with no outcome”, he said angrily. MEP Ms Kuneva’s insight into how energy bills in Bulgaria amounted to more than a pensioner’s income was shocking, as was her announcement that 9 people had committed suicide because they were not in a position to pay bills. The video evidence of one of the petitioners was powerful: 250 000 Bulgarian families are subject to lawsuits by energy companies, the disputes arising because these final customers are not in contractual relationships with the energy provider.
2. On this last point, I was astounded to discover that at the heart of the Bulgarian energy billing issue was the same problem tenants in Malta face. Like these Bulgarian petitioners, Maltese tenants are not allowed to be the account holder without the permission of the landlord. They also have to pay a deposit of 466 euro and they need to know that the default tariff is not the correct tariff, so that they can take suitable action. The third European Commission representative who spoke about Maltese petition 341/2014 stated that it is not against EU law for a tenant to not have a contractual relationship with an energy provider.
This is where I felt uneasy. As Mr Dzhambazki asked of the committee: Would you pay if you had no contractual relationshop with a service provider?
How can it be possible that this is legal? This is the crux of the problem with the Bulgarian billing issue and also the Maltese tenant billing issue.
Just to remind people about what happened to my family and I:
One of the clauses in our rental contract stipulated that we had to pay 100 euro per month on account towards the Arms bill. We thought it strange that we were not allowed to have the bill in our name but we thought that 100 euro per month was reasonable. Nearly three years of our landlord increasing our payments on account from 100 euro per month to 150 euro per month to 200 euro per month later, we discovered that we were on the extortionate summer residence tariff, misleadingly named the domestic tariff. At the correct residential tariff, over the period of 35 months, we should have been charged 3 270.28 euro for our consumption of 17 670 units of electricity and 417 units of water. Instead we were charged 6 580.12 euro at the incorrectly applied domestic tariff. We had already overpaid by 1 600 euro at this point, so we confronted our landlord and refused to pay the arrears. He was able to apply for a garnishee order on our bank account and my salary (I was the person named on the contract) because the contract stipulated that we were to pay 100 euro ON ACCOUNT. In other words, we had inadvertently committed ourselves to paying at the wrong tariff. I endured monthly visits to court for 2 years, where it was eventually decided by the magistrate that we should split the arrears of 1 600 euro, making our overpayment 2 509.66 euro and not 3270.28 euro.
To sum up, I ended up in court over a bill which was not in my name because I justifiably disputed the correctness of the bill. In court, it was never argued that the bill was wrong – instead we spent two years deciding on who should be accountable for the bill. This is unjust. Our lives over the last few years have been dominated by this. I’ve written to the Office of the Ombudsman, the National Audit Office, the Arms CEO, the Minister for Energy, the Prime Minister – all to no avail. I’ve set up a tenant support facebook group, now numbering over 1 200. I've developed this website and contributed to this blog. Three years later, I still have had no refund even though I have completed Arms Form H1, application for redress. Instead I was told by an Arms lawyer that the refund which I was clearly entitled to , would be deposited in my ex landlord’s account and then I would have to take legal action against my ex landlord to get my money back! Talk about adding insult to injury. This, even though I have my ex landlord’s sworn affidavit which he presented to court, in which he states that we lived in his so called empty property for 35 months.
As I understand it, the Bulgarian petitioners receive notices of their consumption but not invoices. These show arbitrary amounts which do not reflect their true consumption.
Something has to be done about contracts and energy final customers. There are so many loopholes waiting to be exploited if there isn’t a direct contractual relationship between final customer and energy provider.
3. The third representative from the European Commission who commented on the Maltese petitions also said that the petitioner of petition 341/2014 hadn’t indicated whether he had asked Arms for data on his consumption of electricity. It would be great if all the Commission representatives talked to each other about the different petitions or complaints. I have sent the Commission and the European Parliament every single piece of information I thought was relevant. If these were to be shared amongst everybody involved in sorting this problem, then it will be very evident that I have mentioned several times that tenants are told by Arms that they do not have access to information about their consumption data because they are not the account holder.
Having said all this, I am very grateful for the mechanism of submitting a petition to the European Parliament, which has probably kept me sane over the last few years :) . I very much enjoyed watching the discussion - it is good to see representatives from different countries getting together to make things better for all European citizens.
Thank you MEP Mr Becker and MEP Mr Jahr for your interventions after hearing the Commission’s information on the Maltese petitions.
Also, thank you EU Commission representatives – I know you have a difficult, thankless job.
A big thank you goes to Maltese MEP Marlene Mizzi who chaired the meeting.
I hope you know that your work is invaluable as a check and balance of last resort.
This is the link to the video footage of the petitions. I found all of it fascinating, especially Mr Dzhambazki's passionate speech after the video footage of a Bulgarian petitioner. Discussion of the Maltese petitions start at 10:08 am.
Malta Tenant Support