Slovak consumers currently face many challenges on the energy market. Rising electricity and gas prices have, of course, had a disproportionate effect on poorer households. Contracts and contractual terms are complicated and unfavourable, often containing unfair terms, and consumers sometimes unknowingly agree to buy various assorted goods and services (bundled offers) they did not want. Electricity and gas suppliers have been known to still use door-to-door sales to enter into new contracts, and then deny customers their right to withdraw from such a contract within the legal period of 14 days. On top of all this, the choice of energy suppliers in Slovakia is quite limited.
In response to these problems, a new energy ombudsman was set up at the end of the year by the Slovak energy regulator – the Office for the Regulation of Network Industries (ÚRSO). Its main tasks will be to support consumers in solving their problems with energy supply, distribution and contracts.
The Office of the Energy Ombudsman works as a virtual platform, the aim of which is to help consumers quickly and efficiently by linking the knowledge of the Office’s experts with the practical experience of consumer organizations, who have been active in this field in Slovakia for a long time. Consumers can submit their complaint to the Energy Ombudsman via the ÚRSO website.
“The establishment of the Energy Ombudsman platform is the result of state energy regulator efforts to create an effective system for solving consumer disputes from the energy market, which was initiated by negotiations with representatives of the Slovak consumer organization and STEP partner Spoločnosť ochrany spotrebiteľov (S.O.S.). Subsequently, the Consumer Protection Platform was created, and also brings together consumer organizations, which are active in the field of consumer protection on the energy market, including ours, “said Petra Čakovská, vice president and energy expert at S.O.S.
The newly established Energy Ombudsman will enable the state regulator to quickly and effectively solve the most pressing problems and issues of consumers and also provide them with assistance in the form of recommendations and advice.
On the topic, ÚRSO president Andrej Juris said “As a virtual ombudsman, we can use not only the knowledge of experts in our office, but also external experts from consumer associations, who cooperate with us for a long time, to be faster and more efficient in resolving consumer complaints.”
The ombudsman also provides tips and instructions on how the customer should prepare their submission in terms of content and form, if they are dissatisfied with the resolution of the complaint by the energy supplier. It also provides assistance in preparing the application, informs the customer of what they can demand, what result can be expected, and if necessary, advises the customer on who they should turn to in case of escalation.
The energy ombudsman’s ambition is to become the actor who the consumer will turn to when they have concrete energy problems they cannot deal with themselves. The energy regulator wants to make it easier and faster for Slovak consumers to solve their problems by assessing whether the regulated entity has violated the rights of customers in accordance with applicable energy legislation. If such a violation has occurred, the state regulator will contact energy suppliers directly to solve the complaint as soon as possible.