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Electricity, natural gas cut off for 4.5 million in Turkey last year due to unpaid bills

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Amid the rapidly rising cost of energy, 4.5 million people in Turkey had their electricity and natural gas supplies cut off in 2021 due to a failure to pay their bills, according to a report drafted by an opposition lawmaker.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker and deputy chairman Ahmet Akın drafted his report based on a number of questions he directed to the country’s Energy and Natural Resources Ministry under the law on the right to obtain information.

The ministry’s answers to Akın’s questions revealed that 3,449,000 customers of electricity distribution companies and around 1,093,000 subscribers of natural gas distribution companies had their electricity and natural gas supply disconnected in 2021 due to unpaid bills.

The figures showed that an average of 378,000 electricity and natural gas subscribers were cut off every month in 2021.

Customers who are unable to pay their electricity and natural gas bills on their due date are given five and 15 more days, respectively to pay them by the energy distribution companies in Turkey, or else have their supply cut off.

Akın said he expects the figures in 2022 to be even worse because of the increases in energy costs that were made at the beginning of 2022, when people began to have bills two or three times higher than the bills they got the year before.

Turks started 2022 with news of jacked-up prices, fueled by a currency crisis amid the highest rate of inflation in nearly two decades.

Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EPDK) announced on Jan. 1 that it had raised electricity prices by 52 percent for lower-demand households for the new year and 127 percent for high-demand commercial users, while the Petroleum Pipeline Corporation (BOTAŞ) raised natural gas prices by 25 percent for households and 50 percent for industrial users.

“Although access to energy is a fundamental need of the people, this situation [the high number of people left without power] shows how our citizens are challenged by the rising energy costs. A value added tax [VAT] cut made by the government [on electricity] has been no remedy. Places of business continue to get energy bills that are higher than their rent,” said Akıncı.

In response to widespread protests in the streets and on social media over the rising electricity prices, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in early March announced a reduction of the sales tax on electricity used in residences and agricultural irrigation from 18 percent to 8 percent.

However, people say VAT cuts make no major difference in their energy bills. According to the results of a survey conducted by MetroPoll in March in which respondents were asked about the effect of VAT cuts on energy bills, 47.3 percent reported “no change” and 30.8 percent reported increased bills, while only 12.3 percent said the cuts have provided relief and 9.6 percent said they had not heard about the cuts.

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