Switching energy supplier can still take months, experts say


Switching energy suppliers and settling disputes still take too long in EU countries, says a review by the Council of European Energy Regulators.

The review, released Friday (9 November), said member states had made significant progress in customer rights but that there were “still some gaps in practice”.

CEER President John Mogg said progress made was essentially related to the legislative transposition of the EU’s third energy package by member states.

“Transposing rights into national law is a necessary first step, but it is not enough,” Lord Mogg said, referring to the need for countries to implement the laws.

Recently, consumers have been trying a new tactic to defend against what they view as the excessive and arbitrary prices set by energy suppliers.

Households in Belgium and the Netherlands have been testing a bargaining plan in which they collectively switch to the supplier that offers the best rates, EURACTIV reported earlier this year.

There is some evidence the plan is catching on in other EU countries, with the BBC reporting last week that the UK group Consumer Focus is advocating collective switching.

Measures to reduce long delays

On switching energy supplier, the review said “currently only a small number of CEER member countries intend to put measures in place to reduce the delays experienced in practice”.

CEER, which represents gas and electricity regulators, said it “strongly emphasises” the need to complete a switch between energy suppliers as soon as possible, calling for a 24-hour period but no longer than three weeks.

The group said 23 of its 26 member countries had legal provisions determining a maximum time period for a switch of supplier, with only Luxembourg and Slovakia setting no such provisions. Bulgaria foresees a maximum time period, but will not implement it until legal modifications enter into force.

Portugal and France require a switch to be carried out within one week or less. In Belgium the process usually takes between three and five weeks.

CEER said the main reasons for the delays were technical (wrong meter data, for example), legal (due occasionally to insufficient legal provisions), or administrative, since in a few countries switching was only possible on the first day of each month.


Most countries have had mechanisms to settle disputes for a long time, with many for over a decade, but that it was unclear whether those included the legislation’s three month out-of-court settlement period.

“As a consequence it still remains unclear in a number of countries if consumers can count on settling their disputes within three months”, CEER said, adding this was “mostly due to the scattered picture of responsibilities and the resulting lack of data.”

Industries and private households are in theory able to freely choose their energy supplier following the entry into force of EU directives in 2004 and 2007, but energy consumers continue to complain about high prices and a lack of supplier choice. 

Partially in response to these concerns, the Commission on 5 July 2007 launched a new initiative for a European Charter on the Rights of Energy Consumers

The charter, which is non-binding but compiles existing EU energy consumer rights in a single text, was criticised by the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC) for lacking teeth. Consumer issues are also addressed in the Commission's 'third package' of proposals to liberalise the energy sector.

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