Hera allows households facing financial hardship (that are not behind with any payments, including instalments previously granted) to pay their bills in three instalments, and applies the main refinancing interest rate (the official reference rate at which the European Central Bank grants loans to other banks has been zero since 10 March 2016), increased by 3.5%. For amounts over Euro 2000, Hera reserves the right to carry out more accurate checks before granting the instalment plan. In certain cases of financial hardship (e.g. customers using the temporary state lay-off fund, or on unemployment benefits, beneficiaries of the income support fund of the Emilia-Romagna Bilateral Agency or customers who are unemployed as a result of the reduction or termination of their employment) the number of instalments is increased to 6, interest-free. In addition, subject to approval of social assistants, the instalments may be increased to nine. The procedure also applies to professionals and small condominiums, businesses can also request to pay by instalments which Hera grants on similar conditions following checks on their level of solvency.
As regards Marche Multiservizi, requests for payment by instalments for the water service were accepted from 1682 customers with financial difficulties.
Payment by instalments for domestic customers concerns only bills over Euro 100, with an interest rate equal to the TUR increased by 3.00%. The instalments are agreed with the users in proportion to the amounts of the bills issued and up to 4 instalments may be allowed. In special cases, agreed with the social services of the municipalities, the number of instalments can be extended, also exempting from payment of interest.
Payment by instalments, also for Marche Multiservizi, applies to professionals and small condominiums; for businesses, payments in instalments is authorized following checks on their level of solvency.
In addition to payment by instalments, with 3 or 6 instalments, AcegasApsAmga grants postponement of the due date of the bills. An interest rate equal to the TUR applies to instalments. Customers in particularly difficult economic circumstances and supported by public assistance agencies may be granted additional advantageous extensions.
Throughout 2017, over 195,000 instalment plans were granted to residential customers. On a like-for-like basis as compared to 2015 (excluding AcegasApsAmga), over 191,000 instalment plans were granted, an increase of 5.6% compared to the previous year. Over 6000 business customers were granted payment by instalments (+2.2% compared to 2016), and the respective value amounted to Euro 31,317 thousands (+8.2% compared to 2016).
Considering only Hera SpA, approximately 91,000 mass market customers (families and professionals) requested payment by instalments of at least one bill in 2017, (+7.5% compared to 2016), while the business customers were 3185 (+5.4% compared to 2016).
|Number of bills paid in instalments||164,346||186,476||195,723|
|Value of bills paid in instalments (thousands of Euro)||119,429||112,470||112,143|
* Excluding AcegasApsAmga
The Group’s attention to the weaker social groups is also confirmed by its collaboration over many years with the Social Services of the municipalities and with the organizations that provide services to citizens. This collaboration is a distinctive element of Hera among multi-utility and commercial companies and consists of a dedicated channel with operators who offer counselling to social workers and structured forms of relief that often make it possible to restore a disconnected service, avoid disconnection and allow municipalities to optimize the management of economic contributions.
In 2017 the Hera Group managed over 15,000 contacts with social services.
The number of municipalities that have joined to the Protocol has also increased, with two new Protocols approved and more municipalities joining the existing Protocols.
The new protocols that were approved in 2017 relate to the municipalities of:
- Bologna (ASP Bologna);
- Castelnuovo Rangone, Castelvetro di Modena, Guiglia, Marano sul Panaro, Savignano sul Panaro, Spilamberto, Vignola, Zocca and Montese (Unione Terre di Castelli).
Specifically, the following municipalities have been added to the protocols already signed in previous years
- San Giorgio di Piano (Unione Reno Galliera);
- Bertinoro, Castrocaro and Terra del Sole, Civitella di Romagna, Dovadola, Galeata, Meldola Modigliana, Portico and San Benedetto, Predappio, Premilcuore, Rocca San Casciano, Santa Sofia and Tredozio (Unione di comuni della Romagna Forlivese – Unione Montana).
The activity carried out in 2017 achieved 82% of service disconnections avoided thanks to the protocols.
Lastly, during the year, the operating protocols with the municipalities of Trieste and Padua were reviewed to facilitate the provision of water, electricity, and gas for customers in financial distress. The protocols signed envisage the intervention of the municipality for each individual bill of each individual customer, therefore the protocols are activated for granting payment by instalments, payment of subsidies and prevention of disconnection procedures.
In 2010, on its own initiative, Hera Group introduced a bonus to offset expenses for the district heating service, to be attributed to customers who have the income requirements with the same procedures as those used for gas and electricity expense compensation. In particular, the requirements to access the 2017 bonus have eliminated the need for the holder of the contract to facilitate to be a resident, as established by AEEGSI with Resolution 94/2017/R/COM for electricity and gas bonuses.
The bonus for 2017 is worth Euro 115 per year for households up to 4 members, and Euro 159 per year for households with a greater number of members. In 2017, 1070 applications had been submitted (968 in 2016) amounting to about Euro 130,000. This figure shows that applications increased by approximately 10%, and that the total amount paid to customers rose by approximately 8.5% compared to the previous year.
As regards Hera, the contracts state that if the bill is not paid the service may be disconnected. In these cases, a first reminder is sent approximately 20 days after the bill’s expiry (only for reliable payers and debts of up to Euro 150) and a subsequent reminder (after an additional 20 days) is sent by registered mail, to inform the customer that the service may be disconnected. For amounts due under Euro 150, if payment is not made the service is disconnected, on average two months after the bill’s due date. If the bill is for more than Euro 150, a single reminder is sent by registered mail, warning the customer that their service may be disconnected. In this case, the service can be disconnected about one month after the bill’s due date. The customer may request to pay the bill in instalments, up to the time the supply is disconnected. If the suspension involves condominium users, Hera informs residents individually before suspending the service.
If it is not possible to disconnect the service (e.g. the meter cannot be accessed) an additional notice is sent to the customer to inform that the service will be disconnected (connection cut off) should they fail to pay their bill in the set timeframe. For energy services, if the disconnection is not technically feasible, the selling party may terminate the contract and activate the last resort services.
In the areas served by Marche Multiservizi, the company grants payment of the bills by instalments to customers experiencing financial hardship provided that they have always paid instalments previously granted.
Payment by instalments for residential customers concerns only bills over Euro 100. The instalments are agreed with the users in proportion to the amounts of the bills issued and up to 4 instalments may be allowed, except in special cases agreed with the social services of the municipalities, where multiple instalments can be agreed. In these latter cases of financial hardship (customers using the temporary state lay-off fund, or on unemployment benefits, beneficiaries of the income support from municipalities or customers who are unemployed as a result of the reduction or termination of their employment and assisted by social services) the instalments are interest-free. For users that fall within the above procedure, an interest rate equal to the FCA is granted (the official reference rate at which the European Central Bank grants loans to other banks – 0.05% at the end of 2015) increased by 3%. This procedure is also applied to professionals and small condominiums. In particular, for businesses, payment by instalments is authorized following checks on their level of solvency.
Regarding the supply of water, until February 2014 Hera limited or disconnected its supply in compliance with the provisions of the Integrated Water Service Charter and with the regulations of competent authorities in force. In March 2014 Hera decided, on a voluntary basis, that in the event of late payment by domestic customers or mixed customers, it would limit the supply in all the Emilia-Romagna areas served but never suspend it. This procedure will also be taken up in the Padua and Trieste areas in 2015.
In addition, the updated SOStegno Hera guide is available on the Group’s website, and it contains all the information necessary on the opportunities of reducing expenses for energy and water services, reserved for customers in difficult economic and/or physical conditions. It also provides information on how to pay bills in instalments and what to do in the event of late payments. The guide also explains how users can benefit from the social bonuses for electricity, gas, water and district heating, and who to contact in the event of water leaks. Lastly, advice is provided on good practices for reducing consumption, actively contributing to the responsible use of environmental resources.