AWhen Clara Borgsmüller opens the e-mail, she tries to keep breathing calmly. Then she draws up a simple calculation: she gets 1,600 euros a month as a pension. After deducting all fixed costs, she is left with almost 500. Of this she has to go shopping, fill up the gas, feed her dog and the two cats. She can make a good living from it, she says, but others have it worse. But the e-mail from her gas supplier now says that she should pay twice as much as before. Then she only had 250 euros to live on. “It breaks my neck,” she says.
More and more people in Germany are like Clara Borgsmüller since energy prices exploded last winter. Consumer advocates and researchers warn that now even those who have never had to rely on social benefits are getting into trouble. Part of the middle class, it is feared, will slide into poverty in the coming months. For many, a glimpse of these fates is a glimpse into their own future.
It is also a future that could happen much earlier than expected since the federal government declared the gas emergency plan on Thursday. Together with the planned Energy Security Act, this can enable suppliers to immediately pass on the increased gas prices to their customers. However, the Federal Network Agency would have to activate this right beforehand. It is not yet clear whether and when she will do so.
After reading the email, Borgsmüller looks for solutions. Install heat pump? Too expensive. The house on the outskirts of a small town in Rhineland-Palatinate is only rented anyway. Sign off gas completely? A heater in the bathroom would be enough for her in winter. But the hot water also comes from the thermal baths. In the end, she lets the notice period expire – an expensive mistake that too many make.
Although the tariffs have become considerably more expensive in recent months, there are considerable differences between the providers. On average, gas prices more than doubled in April compared to the same month last year. According to the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), the price of electricity has risen by a good 15 percent.
Borgsmüller worries about what to expect in addition to the gas and electricity costs. “So what? Are there still tent cities in Frankfurt?” she says. “It’s gallows humor.” She’s afraid of going into debt and ending up with a blackout — when the grid operator’s worker rings the doorbell and wants to turn off the gas. “But before things like this happen, there has to be a solution,” she says.
The solution that the state is currently offering is a one-off fee of 300 euros for employed persons who are subject to income tax. Like students, pensioners are not entitled to the energy allowance. Social welfare recipients meanwhile receive a one-off payment of 200 euros per person, families 100 euros per child. The state pays a heating subsidy to households that receive housing benefit. Further relief is currently being discussed in the government, said Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Thursday. However, he did not give any details.