European energy policy aims to ensure secure, safe and sustainable energy supplies to EU businesses and households at affordable prices.
The Energy 2020 strategy stresses the role of consumers. Empowering consumers will ensure that consumers are better off as a result of market opening and competition, and will be able to recognise the benefits of the internal market.
The internal energy market legislation sets high standards of consumer protection and the liberalisation of gas and electricity markets are the basis to create a potential of choice and price competition that consumers can tap into.
European measures are complemented by national and local measures such as energy subsidy schemes which contribute substantially to efficiency improvements. However other measures, intended to promote consumer interests, sometimes have had the opposite effect. For example retail price regulations have often made the emergence of choice and competition more difficult and frustrated investments.
As part of its efforts to ensure proper protection of consumers' interests in the energy field, the services of the European Commission drafted a checklist of practical information for consumers in 2008. Following consultations with relevant stakeholders (including Member States, the national regulatory authorities, consumer organisations, energy companies), Member States were invited to complete the consumer checklist [282 KB] in accordance with concrete situations in their national markets and make it available to consumers.
The protection of energy consumers was reinforced by Directives 2009/72 and 2009/73 of 13 July 2009. These Directives further specify consumers' rights (e.g. by setting a maximum of three and six weeks as deadlines for supplier switching and account closure respectively) and oblige Member States to take the necessary steps to provide the final checklists to consumers. The Commission continues to promote the public awareness of these rights.
Vulnerable Consumer Working Group discussions in 2012-13 resulted in a Guidance Document published in 2014, which includes various annexes. One annex focuses on some of the main elements that may drive and exacerbate consumer vulnerability [69 KB] in the energy sector, including energy poverty. Another provides examples of Member State instruments and practices [96 KB] in place. An explanatory note [31 KB] describes how these documents can be used by Member State authorities and other parties.
The main aim is to (i) assist those Member States that have not yet defined the concept of vulnerable customers as required by energy legislation, and (ii) to assist Member States develop policy - where it is needed - to ensure vulnerable customers are supported in the best possible way. The two documents complement the positions taken in the Commission Communication "Making the Internal Energy Work" (2012) and the Price Transparency Working Group Report (2012), which Member State authorities should also refer to.
In the interests of ongoing improvement, proposals for updates and additions (including website details) to the instruments and practices document by Member State authorities and other parties are most welcome.
In November 2010, a study on the functioning of retail electricity markets for EU consumers showed that EU consumers could save about €13 billion in total if they switched to the cheapest electricity tariff they could find.