With the cold months ahead, many households in Germany are worried about how they can afford to heat their homes.
Now the Association of Towns and Municipalities has urged the government to put in place higher heating cost subsidies for low-income households.
“We are seeing an explosion in energy prices, especially for gas,” association managing director Gerd Landsberg told Bild.
“It’s clear that energy should not only be something for the rich. Therefore, the next federal government is called upon to support financially weak families and to mitigate the explosion in heating costs.”
At the same time, Landsberg warned of higher costs for local governments.
The strong increase in gas prices will “hit many municipalities hard – through higher energy costs for buildings and higher heating cost subsidies for Hartz IV (unemployment benefit II) recipients”, he added.
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According to Landberg, municipalities expect a deficit of between €8-8.5 billion this year. Next year it could be similarly high.
“If the rise in energy and gas prices continues unchecked, there is a threat of a dramatic social imbalance,” Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Association of Consumer Organisations, told the Tagesspiegel.
Verena Bentele, president of the social association VdK, spoke out in favour of annually adjusting the housing allowance for people with low incomes in order to help people manage the rising energy costs.
In view of the immense price increases for energy, the state must create social compensation for those on low incomes, she said.
It can’t be the case that almost half of all households in major German cities have to spend more than 30 percent of net income on rent, and for a quarter – at least 40 percent, Bentele told the newspaper.
“Politics must finally create framework conditions so that housing, electricity, heat, and also healthy food are affordable for everyone in the country,” she said.
Why are energy bills going up?
Gas prices on the European markets have reached a record high in the past weeks. It’s down to a number of factors including demand soaring again ahead of winter and after the Covid shutdowns. Limited supply is also contributing to the price increases.
Consumers in Germany, are already feeling it. Gas prices in particular have risen sharply, but electricity prices for households have also climbed to record levels.
The CEO of the energy company RWE, Markus Krebber, expects further price increases.
“I expect electricity and gas to become more expensive in the next few years. It is not yet possible to say how strong the increase will be. Nobody expected the current explosion in stock exchange prices,” he told the Rheinische Post at the weekend.
Households with low incomes have to spend proportionately significantly more of their cash on energy than households with medium or high incomes.
This is why some EU countries have already initiated measures to protect consumers. France has announced a tariff brake for electricity and gas, and plans to give poorer households €100 each towards the bills.
Italy plans to spend three billion euros to relieve households of part of their electricity and gas bills, for example through tax cuts.
Spain has called for measures at the EU level, such as a common platform for gas purchases.
Luxembourg blames speculation in the gas market for the price increase and proposed a revision of the EU directive. “We have to stop the extremely speculative behaviour of some traders,” said Luxembourg’s Energy Minister Claude Turme.
Rising energy prices also have other undesirable side effects: inflation has been rising sharply for months. In September, it rose above the four-percent mark for the first time in Germany in almost 28 years.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, goods and services in Germany cost an average of 4.1 per cent more than a year earlier. As a result, the spike in energy prices can lead to other products also becoming more expensive.