Utility Entitled to Cut Power If Customer Does Not Pay Electricity Bill That Includes Disputed Price Rise

The Federal Court of Justice ruled that a utility is entitled to cut off the electricity supply of a customer who did not pay a bill in that included disputed electricity price adjustments.

Plaintiff was a standard customer (Tarifkunde) since 2005. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 the utility raised the electricity price for this group of customers. Plaintiff did not pay the annual bill for 2008 in the amount of EUR 1,311.98, contesting the accuracy and appropriateness of the bill and the right of RWE to adjust the electricity prices. Besides plaintiff alleged that the price adjustment was inequitable. The utility reminded plaintiff several times, announcing a power cut. On 20 April 2009 plaintiff’s electricity supply was cut off. Plaintiff requested that the court established the illegality of the announcement and implementation of the power cut.

BGH confirmed the rulings of the two previous instances that had dismissed the case. The 8th Senate decided based on the Ordinance on General Terms Regulating Universal Services for Household Customers and Replacement Supply via the Low Voltage Network (StromGVV). According to Section 19 para. 2 StromGVV utilities can cut the power supply if customers are in delay with payments of EUR 100 or more. Although the disputed price rises did not count towards the EUR 100 threshold according to Section 19 para. 2 sent. 4 to 6 StromGVV, plaintiff owed at least EUR 1,005.48, BGH held. The court dismissed the allegation that the initial electricity price was also inequitable, saying the initial price agreed upon at the time the contract was concluded was not subject to a review regarding the appropriateness (Billigkeitskontrolle pursuant to Section 315 BGB (Civil Code)).

The decision shows that customers have to challenge price adjustments by the utilities in court if they want to dispute the bill. In the past they were often successful, in particular non-standard customers, so-called special customers (Sonderkunden), as the BGH declared various price adjustment clauses void (regarding various cases, please see the blog posts below).

According to the latest monitoring report (cf. page 124/125) by the Federal Network Agency, in 2011 utilities announced power cuts in 6,075,433 cases, asking grid operators in 1,255,146 cases to disrupt supply. 312,059 times the supply was actually cut off.

Source: Federal Court of Justice, ref. no. VIII ZR 41/13, press release (the written judgement is not available yet)

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