According to the NRW Consumer Centre, more than 300,000 people in the state were threatened with a power shut-off and 62,000 financially struggling families actually had their electricity shut off in 2010 alone, the last year for which firm statistics are available.
Of the 58 companies the organisation surveyed, three-quarters reported that customers were having problems paying their bills, according to the organisation.
“Price increases of around 15 percent for electricity and gas in the past two years have meant that energy for many households is becoming an unaffordable commodity,” said Consumer Centre head Klaus Müller.
Müller estimated that roughly 120,000 households in North Rhine-Westphalia and 600,000 nationwide are today without power because of bill non-payment.
Under German law, power companies have to take a series of legal steps before cutting off someone's power, including warning them multiple times. There are also protections making it harder to cut off power to vulnerable people, such as the disabled. But simply being unable or unwilling to pay bills is not a valid excuse.