Skyrocketing utility bills leave consumers desperate in Turkey

In the past year, electricity and natural gas prices in Turkey have skyrocketed. Since July, in particular, consumers have received outlandish electricity bills - one user, living alone in a 2-bedroom flat, has paid 500 Turkish Lira for electricity in August.

Hacı Bişkin / DUVAR 

Utility prices in Turkey - especially in Istanbul - are skyrocketing, leaving individual consumers with monthly bills worth hundreds of lira. One consumer, living alone in a 2-bedroom flat, reports that since July their electricity bills have averaged 300 Turkish Lira per month. When citizens appeal to utility companies, they are told there is nothing they can do - they have to pay the bills.

The price of utilities is rising across the board. In July alone, a 15% increase was levied on electricity in Turkey. In the past two years, Turkey had the highest increases in gas and electricity prices in Europe - from the first half of 2019 to the first half of 2021, electricity prices increased by 47.4%, while gas prices increased by 42.3%. This while some European countries, including Denmark, Holland, and Belgium, saw a decrease in electricity and gas prices over the same period.

In 2021 so far, electricity alone has increased in price by 21.9 percent. Over the course of 2020, that number was 12% for residential properties. 

One resident of Istanbul, who lives alone in a 2-bedroom apartment on the Asian side of Istanbul, thought the bill she received in August was a mistake. Over the course of the month, the only major appliances she used in her home were a refrigerator, washing machine, and air-conditioner. At the end of August, she received a bill for 513 TL. She thought it was an error until she received a bill for September that was nearly 400 liras. 

She objected to the bills through the utility company and didn’t pay them over the course of the appeals process. The utility company then cut off her electricity. At the end of the process, they told her she had to pay the bills - “You used it,” they told her.

Bills remain high despite residents not spending time at home

In January 2020, the price of electricity per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for residential properties was 0.7102 TL, including taxes. By December 2020, that number was 0.7511 TL. Now, as of October 2021, the price of electricity per kWh is 0.9155 TL. 

Another consumer in Şişli, on the European side of Istanbul, experienced a similar rise in electricity prices. The consumer lives alone in a 1-bedroom apartment, totaling 50 square meters. In 30 days last month, they spent only 4 days at home. Despite this, they received a 178 lira electricity bill. In September, they only spent one week at home - for that month, they received a 159 lira bill. Only the internet modem and the refrigerator were plugged in.

A resident of Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul, also received sky-high bills for periods of time they were away from home. With only the refrigerator plugged in, while away from home, the consumer paid a 135 TL bill. They thought this was a mistake, but the price remained the same for the ensuing months. 

Those consumers, like the resident living in Kadiköy, who complained to the electricity company were given a similar refrain: “You used it,” they were told. 

In the last three months, complaints have poured into electricity companies. Users say they have received sky-high bills when they weren’t at home, that their usage price skyrocketed when they had no change in behavior, and that they are being charged for electricity usage at the wrong address. 

“We haven’t been home for a month and a half,” one user wrote to the utility company, “There is nothing on at home. How can a 62.70 TL bill come to an empty house?”

Despite this, users say the bills keep coming. 

Very little that consumers can do

Ertuğrul Yücel, a member of the Chamber of Electrical Engineers (EMO), says that price hikes and an increase in taxes are to blame for these bills. Yücel warns consumers to check their meters and appliances to ensure they are not using excess energy.

“As an example, it is critical to check whether there is a grounding line for your refrigerator. If there is no leak, you should then check your meter. If your meter is fine, there is nothing you can do,” he said. 

He further noted that, now, these prices should be considered standard. 

“If there is only one person living in a house using a refrigerator and a washing machine, it’s normal to receive a 150 TL bill,” he said. 

This is not a problem that can be solved by a handful of citizens complaining, he said. This increase in prices can only be addressed by institutional change. If the current trend continues, he said, electricity prices could triple this winter. 

Olgun Sakarya, another board member of EMO, reflected Yücel’s sentiment. Consumers should ensure that their appliances and meter are functioning correctly, but beyond that, the issue is a matter of taxes and price hikes. Without high-level change, there is very little consumers can do.