This was announced by the Association for Consumer Information (VKI), which had sued on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs. The judgment is not final.Vienna. The VKI explained that with the judgment, the legal basis for the increased tariffs charged since May 2022 no longer applies. In the opinion of the VKI, the fees charged on the basis of the clause since the price increase must be reimbursed to the extent of the corresponding increase.
In March 2022, Verbund announced a price increase for its household and commercial customers as of May 1, 2022. It is not known how many customers were affected. At the end of 2021, Verbund had around 450,000 electricity and 80,000 natural gas customers. In the case of electricity, Verbund relied on a clause that referred to the Austrian electricity price index (ÖSPI), which is dependent on the stock market price.
The price adjustment clause, however, was with the heading “Value protection working price” Mistake. As the court ruled, under such a heading, consumers could not expect that this clause was not intended to compensate for general inflation, but rather to depict a forecast of future wholesale prices. It is therefore surprising and disadvantageous for customers.
No “random wins”
The court also states that according to the legal requirements, the original value relationship between the company’s performance and the consumer’s cash payment must be maintained as correctly as possible and therefore no “random wins” are to be made possible in favor of a contracting party. A clause that uses the ÖSPI as the basis for calculating price increases in the working price is not appropriate for the association in order to maintain the proportionality between service and remuneration and is therefore inadmissible.
“The association acts towards consumers as an electricity producer and supplier. The customers deliberately chose not only an electricity trader as their supplier, but with Verbund a company as their contractual partner that claims to produce its own electricity from 100 percent hydropower. There is therefore no proper basis why the association should be able to use the stock exchange prices as a benchmark for – supposed – value protection”said VKI lawyer Maximilian Kemetmüller. “We call on the association to make repayments to those affected to the extent of the corresponding increase amount.”
So far, Verbund has emphasized that every customer was informed of this clearly and in a way that was easy to understand when they agreed to this clause. Incidentally, in January 2023, the electricity company announced a further price increase as of March 1, 2023 on the basis of the clause. The energy price for existing customers with a standard load profile in the household segment will then rise to 23.9 cents net per kilowatt hour (kWh).