Words like “market” and “reform” are popular in market discourse, but many don’t really understand what that means. In particular, some players have a problem with comprehending the idea that to profit, you also need to account for market risks, and the responsibilities this entails.
“We need to strengthen communication with consumers. It has to be systematic social work,” Babiy added. The regulator has been cracking down on such misbehaviour, although warnings and threats of fines are not always enough to secure compliance.
To have a real, competitive market, experts note, consumers need to know about their rights and have transparent terms, conditions, and prices. That isn’t always happening as many companies publish their prices with delays (especially those on the higher end).
The idea of what a market is also needs to be communicated to consumers. Only once the latter understand the power of switching will the numerous players and their offers (currently as many as 30 companies with 70 subscriptions) become more competitive.
The current situation means they must either take on those risks themselves or hand over responsibility for supplying consumers to competitors. But instead of working hard, noted Osmolovska, they are busy trying to find schemes to game the system.
“For the market to succeed, more consumers need to learn about the possibility of free choice of gas supplier,” Olga Babiy, member of the National Commission for State Regulation of Energy and Public Utilities, emphasized.
Gas suppliers are used to playing in conditions when they do not need to predict how much their customers will consume next month.
“These companies are diligently lobbying for some creative non-market ways to get gas from Naftogaz. Because subscription is difficult for them. But subscription is a market condition. No market works in such sweet conditions that they would like to get,” Osmolovska summed it up.
For years when the consumer bought gas from the local gas company, everything was alright, but after a change of supplier, it suddenly turned out UAH 12,000 is required for reconnection
She explained that people who tried to switch suppliers would be presented with suspicious debts they had supposedly incurred for things “temperature coefficients.” But once OPORA got involved and started to question the debts, it turned out these were just recommendations for consumers, Boyko added.
“Like, they don’t have to pay the debts anymore,” she exclaimed.
Suspicious debts are not the only problem, as some regional gas companies through their related distribution system operators are simply shutting off consumers who have changed their gas supplier. Boyko cited a recent example in the town of Lubny, where a pipe was sealed due to an allegedly incorrect boiler connection.
Finally, those who fought past these various tactics found themselves struggling to find their identification codes – the numbers that are the basis for moving customers between gas suppliers. Some suppliers have failed to publish the code altogether, Boyko noted, while others have resorted to various tricks.
In addition to withholding information, some regional suppliers have also tried various underhanded tricks to keep consumers from switching. “Consumers have faced a lot of problems,” noted Tatyana Boyko, coordinator for housing and communal programs at civil network OPORA.
It will be possible to say with confidence that the market has developed when 80% of consumers change their supplier. Only then price will become a major factor for people to choose suppliers.
“Some regional gas companies print it vertically on the side of the bill, on the line of separation,” Boyko explained. “People just tear it off, so they can't find the code to change their supplier.”