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Vienna energy bill crisis
I fully intended to write about education today. Then I dealt with a school allergy scare (my kid) and several Ukrainians freaking out about murky bills issued by Wien Energie. More on the latter.
As I was racing to school to deal with the allergy crisis (a bag of pine nuts spilled onto the classroom floor, no one bothered to tidy it up, and my kid sent me a photo of a totally red face with bloodshot eyes), this message popped into my group chat.
This particular woman addressed this topic for the first time weeks ago, and even sought counselling by Diakonie for help. It turns out, she is not alone. I would not share the story if it was only affecting one family. But in-transparent energy bills which suddenly go up significantly seem to be a huge problem with this particular provider, and it is extremely difficult for Ukrainians (and I imagine any other newcomers to the rental market) to negotiate with the company and ask for recalculations. They are, de facto, held hostage by opaque calculations and pricing. I share all of this really hoping an actual journalist might do some digging. Austrians say “well just change providers” but in practice, it isn’t that simple when a landlord promised an average monthly utility bill of X, and you need a credit history to make a change. One you do not have in this country. Therefore, changing is not free of charge.
“Tatiana, good day.
If you would have the opportunity to raise the topic of bills issued by Wien Energie and to warn refugees renting their own housing in Vienna. I think I would not be the only one who would be grateful!
This is a problem only in Vienna, and only with Wien Energie! They are con artists!
We received a final bill. They did not recalculate anything! They want us to pay €1000! This is for January through May. For four and a half months. When we signed the contract, we paid €550, and in March we paid €550. That makes a total of over €2000 for gas for 4.5 months! Our apartment is just over 50 square meters. We are two adults and one child. It was cold the entire winter in the apartment as we are on the ground floor.
They calculated everything at the highest possible tariff, giving us a contract at €0.21. Our neighbour who has been living here for a long time and has an old contract paid €0.11 for her gas during that same period.
One pays one amount, the other pays twice as much living in the same building! This is a scam! I am shocked that in Austria there can be a company that calculates like a cash-only open air food market without a single set of rules for everyone.”
Another Ukrainian joins the conversation:
“We had the same thing! I lived in an apartment for 10 months, one room, 39 square meters. For 10 months, I paid €1400, but then they sent a final bill for €2228. I am sitting here, and simply do not know what to do. I am crying about it. You are right about the tariffs, everyone in our building is paying a different one. I don’t now where to run to or what to do…
Of course I didn’t write down the meter amounts. Today, the building has been torn down. There is no more meter. I don’t even know what I can show as evidence in court. And if I will lose the court case, I would lose money on paying for the lawyer as well. Maybe there are some kind of charity lawyers? I would be grateful if someone might have a contact. The most interesting thing is I go into my online account with Wien Energie, and it is empty! It doesn’t show my usage, payments — nothing.”
A third shares her story:
“Regarding Wien Energie, we had a similar situation. The apartment was 26 square meters in an old building, we moved in 6 June 2022 and moved out 1 May 2023. We paid €300 per quarter (July, Aug, Sept) and in November they sent a recalculation, demanding we pay an additional €600, and then made a new calculation to pay €240 every month until the end of 2023.
We paid, and sent them €240 each month just like they asked for. I called the hotline, said we are moving, and we want to end the contract with 1 May, please recalculate and send it to our new address.
They sent a new calculation in which they wrote we used 4500kw from September to May, and we should pay €2500. Then they said ok you paid €1200, with taxes €1440. We paid the recalculation of €400 which they sent us on paper. I went to the Wien Energie office at Spittelau, asked them questions about the tariff, etc.
I told them, we paid everything for the old apartment. They said, no, you still owe us €240, and I said how, we didn’t use that much on the meter. I was losing consciousness, I told them I don’t have any means of paying, they even fined me €15 for a supposedly late payment, and I didn’t even receive any bills. In the end, their recalculation ended up being not the €400 they wrote on paper, but €640. I asked them if they thought about where we should get this money from when our social benefits as refugees are €260 per month. How can we live with such tariffs?
We moved to the new apartment. Another Wien Energie contract. It said €0.65/kw although the old apartment was €0.35. Ok, I thought, it’s summer, we can be sparing, but what will we do in winter? Both apartments are single rooms. In the old building, we lost a lot of air via old windows and doors. The landlords told us to heat as necessary because it is impossible to live in winter in an apartment with 16/17C degrees.
I would like to draw attention to Wien Energie. I know that I am not the only one. And when I look in my mailbox and see a letter from Wien Energie, my whole body starts shaking, because it is either a debt or a sum of money from cosmos.”
A fourth Ukrainian adds:
“Yes, we had something similar. They made a mistake, you cannot prove to them that they made a mistake. Then they make it worse, when you start to argue with them, and you still have to pay. Photos of the meter, bills, we showed everything.”
The original commentator:
“They will not recalculate. We went to an appointment with them. They said that they calculated everything correctly and we must pay the amount in full. I had some hope that they might make a proper calculation after we cancelled the contract with them, but no…”
The second commentator:
“They told me to divide into 10 month payments of €228 each. That was it. And told me it’s my problem. Those are their rules.”
Original commentator, after I promised to share their stories:
“Tanja, thank you so much. You see, with these in transparent calculations, Ukrainians become victims in Austria. When no one warns you when you are renting housing, you pay on time, and the owner of the apartment promises you your utility bill will not be more than €180 per month, and then you get a bill for several thousand Euros for 3-4 months, and where to turn?
Yes, you can change provider in theory, but no one talks about this, and it costs €700 to switch, that is what Montana told us because we have no credit history.
It is best to avoid Wien Energie altogether. It is no surprise they have huge lines outside their service centers of customers trying to figure out their bills.”
A new, fifth commentator:
“The same thing happened to us. And we never received a Klimabonus, but we have been here since October.”
I explain that to receive the €500 2022 Klimabonus (which retrospectively was an inflationary clusterfuck) you have to reside in Austria more than 180 days, and the last calculation was performed for those here since early July 2022. I also added that I imagine there will be no Klimabonus in 2023, given the inflationary environment, and this government is incapable of making a payment only to those who need it, and instead paid literally everyone, and got pie on its face in the inflation numbers just a few short months later.
These are all direct translated quotes from the company’s customers from my group Telegram chat.
According to the company’s website (2019 last update), Wien Energie is a 100% subsidiary of WienerStadtwerke Holding AG, so basically 100% owned by the city of Vienna. Those of you in Austria will remember the shitshow that went down in 2022 when Wien Energie nearly defaulted and had to be bailed out to the tune of a €2 billion credit line provided by the Austrian federal government. Even the EU had to approve the move, that unusual it was. The company, naturally, blamed a “crazy energy market” rather than its own mismanagement for the crisis.
To me, this whole story says two things I know to be true:
Get the government/state out of business, everywhere. Period. It is like having the regulator regulate itself. The more I learn about the ins and outs of Stadt Wien, the big red behemoth one dares not criticise (I love the swimming pools, really, and public transport is great, but that does not mean there aren’t layers upon layers of incompetent fat that could and should be cut), the more I shake my head in disbelief. It is truly a PR coup that they have so many convinced they run such a tight ship. I see lots of leaks with little or no oversight when it comes to the most vulnerable people in our society — refugees, mostly women with children, who fled an actual war just a day’s drive from us here in Austria’s capital.
No one can survive in Austria on €260 per month per adult and €145 per month per child to cover all their expenses and a rent subsidy of €165 per individual or €330 per family (irregardless of the size of the family). When Ukrainians are limited from working full time as a result of asking for these social payments, it becomes crystal clear they will not be able to cover market-rate (ironically used in this case) utility bills, for which no one in the government came up with any solution for refugees.
A lot for Friday afternoon. I’ll stop there and save 73 year-old A.I.’s story and that of Ukainian schoolchildren in Austria (including Serhii who just graduated with a gold medal) for next time. Plus an update from the refugee “hotel” in which residents tell me they are “dreaming of food”. Yes, sadly. Yes, I sent them these cards today.
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