Conversations with the Geldfit emergency helpline are becoming increasingly distressing. ‘We hear from old people who have stopped eating hot food’

At the Geldfit call center, an emergency service for people with financial problems.Statue of Marcel van den Berg

Recently, a technician was on the phone at 0800-8115, an emergency number for Geldfit to help people with financial concerns. The mechanic’s employer, a network operator, was instructed by a power supplier to turn off the gas and light the idler. This redneck turns out to be a single mother with a young child. The mechanic could not bring himself, as his orders were, to shut off the main gas valve and the home junction box.

This mechanic was at the lady’s door and said, ‘Gee, I can’t do that. Can you help her please? It was really chills, says Antoinette van der Veer of Gilvet, team leader of the line of communication set up by municipalities, aid organizations and a variety of companies – from ABN Amro to Zilveren Kruis.

The phone line receives about 1,500 calls per month, double the number it had a year ago. Three-quarters of the calls are about the energy bill. For example, from customers of Eneco, Vattenfall and other energy companies who often refer people with payment problems to Geldfit.

Staff at 0800-8115 have notified the single mother of the crisis hotline in her municipality. A crisis hotline can, for example, freeze claims from creditors through the debt counseling process, thus helping to bring an end to gas and electricity shutdowns.

disaster scenario

Not only Geldfit, but many social enterprises are currently preparing for winter, as only the saving hand of the government and the blessing of energy suppliers seem to be able to prevent many Dutchmen from descending into poverty not seen since the war. Hans-Peter Oskam, director of policy and energy transition at Netbeheer Nederland, warned last week in the House of Representatives of the danger of a “catastrophic scenario”.

The director of the umbrella organization of all operators of gas and electricity networks was invited to give a technical lecture on electricity supply in 2030. However, the near future instills in him more fear, Oskam told parliamentarians.

“Our biggest disaster scenario is not the network capacity in 2030, but this winter. Our biggest disaster scenario is if we have to shut down one million households by the end of this winter. In doing so, Oskam pointed to the recent estimate of the Central Planning Office that between 670 thousand and 1.2 One million Dutch households may face serious financial problems due to high energy prices.

Thus, it will be a relief for network operators, whose technicians have the commendable task of cutting off gas and light when people cannot pay their energy bills, that the Cabinet wants to pay a lot of money to prevent disaster scenarios. For example, the Cabinet is considering an emergency fund for the “energy poor” or a price cap for energy suppliers, and this has become clear in recent days. On Wednesday afternoon, suppliers Vattenfall and Eneco attended the House to discuss the affordability of gas and electricity.

from tour in de Volkskrant Among network operators, there appears to have been a slight increase recently in the number of homes where gas has been cut off. Grid operators are legally obligated to fulfill disconnection requests from energy suppliers. Only in exceptional cases can network operator technicians refuse, for example if it has been frozen for more than two days or if a power outage results in serious health risks, such as the failure of a life-saving medical device.

Mechanics as social workers

At Enexis, the network operator in Overijssel, Noord-Brabant and Limburg, among others, they are not looking to have to shut down gas and light to customers en masse. “Not only are these situations extremely distressing for our customers, but they also create unpleasant situations for our technicians,” a company spokesperson says.

In times of energy poverty, already scarce technicians are expected to be social workers in disguise, notes Eddie Fencetra, director of Rendo, the network operator in South Drenthe and North Overijssel. Mechanics often face very difficult situations. They also always go to the fence in pairs, as people can sometimes become aggressive.

There’s no shortage of hateful stories on Geldfit’s line of communication either. The emergency number 0800-8115 was set up in 2019, as an initiative of Nederlandse Schuldhulproute, a collaboration between aid workers, municipalities and businesses. In life-threatening situations, you can call 112, in case of suicidal thoughts, the suicide prevention line 113 is dispatched, and an animal ambulance is dispatched via the emergency number 144-Animal Rescue. “But who do you contact if you have financial concerns?” , Antoinette van der Veer explains the motivations behind Geldfit. “That’s how the idea of ​​115 came.”

“For example, we talk to elderly people on the phone who no longer eat hot food, no longer turn on the stove or no longer take a shower,” van der Veer says. People would rather spend their last money of the month on eating their pets than on a decent meal for themselves. So a disc of five is an unnecessary luxury.

Van der Veer is concerned. I think we could lose a lot of people to pneumonia. They will soon be in a cool, wet house because they do not heat up, and if they are barely eating, they also weaken. I’m expecting really big problems next winter.

Geldfit employees do their best to cope with even the biggest financial problems, even if they are modest at times. We then try to see if they are still eligible for benefits, for example. Everyone is familiar with the benefits of housing and healthcare, but municipalities often have special utensils, for example, to allow your children to play sports. Moreover, not many people know that they can also apply for energy allowance.

intense conversations

And if they knew, not all Dutch people tend to take advantage of the one-time energy allowance of 1,300 euros, notes Carla van der Velst, Schuldhulpmetje’s manager. “The lack of confidence in the government is huge because of the allowance issue.” Van der West points out that people are afraid they will have to pay the money later, although municipalities still assure their residents that the extra energy fee doesn’t have to be paid.

Schuldhulpmetje is one of the social organizations that Gilfit works with, just like Humanitas or forming brigades and energy consultants in municipalities. Van der Veer says the help Geldfit staff can provide is sometimes “drops on a hot plate,” but it’s good if people have a little more money room thanks to our help.

Van der Veer notes that the calls require more and more of her contact team. Conversations are more intense and intense than before. It is becoming more and more common that we no longer know how people can get out of trouble. For example, they live around the social minimum and pay 700 euros for gas and light only. And then you still have to pay the rent and do the shopping. How can you cover your expenses?

She hopes Geldfit’s presence will break the taboo about money issues. “You feel so lonely when you’re in debt, it’s not something you sit and talk about when you’re at a birthday party or on the playground with other moms or dads. While it’s very important to talk about it and ring the bell on time. The faster people knock on our door, The faster we find a solution.

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