Susanne Huneke has stopped counting how many new laws and regulations she has had to read in the past few weeks.

But what the sales manager for district heating at the energy supplier Vattenfall knows: that she is very happy when December is over and survived reasonably well.

Julia Loehr

Business correspondent in Berlin.

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The final preparations for emergency aid for gas and district heating recipients are currently being made at the Vattenfall headquarters in Berlin.

"We shouldn't charge customers anything in December, so we should pay in advance," explains Huneke.

The suppliers get the money from the federal government, more precisely: from the development bank KfW.

Huneke does not know when exactly.

"Hopefully before Christmas."

A few details that the energy supplier needs for its application are still open.

Unlike with gas, district heating customers usually do not pay monthly installments, but quarterly or at other intervals, reports Huneke.

“There are alternative calculation methods, but they are not formulated in the law.” She and her team have to enter the emergency aid into 20,000 contract accounts.

Special rules apply to bulk buyers.

“Is someone who is registered with us as a registered association really recognized by the state?

Which hospital is eligible and which isn't?” Huneke lists a few examples.

Around 1,000 such individual checks are necessary.

Implementation of the aid will “take time”

And when the New Year comes, the work continues.

On Friday, the cabinet passed the draft laws by Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on the gas, district heating and electricity price brakes, which should take effect from March - retrospectively from January.

The chairman of the Regulatory Control Council, Lutz Goebel, dampened expectations at the weekend: "It is unlikely that the government's many different relief measures can be properly executed by the administration," he told the "Welt am Sonntag".

Everyone will eventually get their money, "but it will take time and mistakes will happen."

The government advisors have been complaining about the flood of new requirements and the low level of digitization for years.

As correct as she finds the relief: "Everything that is being done now is an emergency solution," states Susanne Huneke from Vattenfall.

"Emergency solutions, because the state does not have the bank details of the citizens and cannot transfer money directly to them."

The price brakes were announced shortly afterwards.

"While we are still trying to explain to customers what is changing, politicians are again deciding something new," said Huneke.

"It's challenging, to say the least."

Dirk Lönnecker, a member of the board of the Berliner Bau- und Wohnungsgenossenschaft 1892, also feels challenged. There are around 7,000 apartments in the capital, and the residents are tenants and owners at the same time.

Lönnecker has also sent out many letters: first on the said regulation and the gas surcharge, now on the emergency aid and the price brakes.

Sometimes housing is more expensive, sometimes cheaper.

"We're still cutting down trees," he says laconically, referring to paper consumption.

Why not just let him know by email?

Consent is not given in every case.

In addition, 40 percent of the residents are pensioners.

At the moment, Lönnecker checks the cooperative's current account every day.

Will the gas and district heating deduction really not be debited for December?

He's skeptical.

Vonovia is converting the IT systems

Some time ago, the cooperative had asked its residents to voluntarily pay more for the additional costs.

With the state-capped prices in the coming year - there is gas for 80 percent of previous consumption at 12 cents per kilowatt hour, district heating for 9.5 cents - the advance payments have to be adjusted again.

Added to this is the splitting of the CO2 price, also from the beginning of 2023.

The government has developed a ten-step model for this.

But there are exceptions for listed houses and milieu protection areas.

That affects more than half of their housing stock, says Lönnecker.

"Now we have to make lots of special curls."

One person who is relatively relaxed these days is Malte Hollstein, Managing Director of Customer Service at Germany's largest housing company Vonovia.

With the emergency aid in December, they were "through," he says.

“300,000 information letters about the changes have already been sent.” The processes in the company have also been adjusted.

"If tenants transfer too little, the IT systems are usually programmed in such a way that there are payment reminders," reports Hollstein.

"Now we had to change the algorithms so that that doesn't happen and the system recognizes that someone is suspending this down payment." You then contact them individually.

"Through" is also the adjustment of advance payments to the planned price brakes.

In September they were still assuming that tenants' heating costs would double, says Hollstein.

"With the price brakes, we assume an increase of 65 percent."

His impression is that most tenants have adjusted to it.

The number of calls to the Vonovia hotline is manageable, and there are only a few arrears.

At Vattenfall, too, fewer customers have recently contacted us to ask about installment or deferral plans.

Susanne Huneke finds this only partially reassuring.

"I'm afraid that the aid will give the impression that the state is now paying most of the price increase, then everything will be fine." If not enough energy is saved, there is a risk of supply bottlenecks.

On the other hand, there is no immediate help.