In January 2020, the residents of Ufa, the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan, a constituent region of Russia to the west of the Ural Mountains, received heating bills with unexpectedly high figures. For some services there were two fees at once. Bashkortostan’s heating networks are doing explanatory work, and the regional legislature, the State Assembly -- Kurultai, has already offered to impose fines on public utilities for violations in charging fees for housing and public utility services.
Ufa residents reported that since January this year, they have started receiving heating bills where the amounts payable have increased several times over last year. In addition, now they have to pay not only for hot water to the Bashkortostani heat distribution networks (BashRTS,) which heat the water, but also to Ufavodokanal municipal water supply and sewerage treatment company for water discharge. Moreover, the payment for heat is shown both in the bills from the Bashkortostani heat distribution networks and the Unified Information and Settlement Center, the centralized municipal billing organization, with a mark "reassessment.” Consumers began to complain en masse to the office of the regional heat distribution networks for explanations.
According to the heat distribution networks, since the beginning of the cold season the company switched to the 1/8 payment system: people are expected to pay only during the heating season, and in summer there are supposed to be no payments. From 2020, the bills will be issued only for the actually consumed resources based on the showings of whole-building meters.
The heat distribution networks give the following explanation for the need for the revision of fees: "If in the time period from January to May 2019, heat consumption was higher than the monthly average, the bills will be revised upwards." Besides, the company made a point that no adjustments will be needed in 2020 because during this period the owners of apartments will pay for the actual consumption of heat energy. The resolution of the regional government determined that the adjustment is to be made within the first three months of 2020. The utility companies also underlines: "The Bashkortostani heat distribution networks do not set tariffs on their own. As well as other resource supplying companies in Bashkortostan, this company is an organization engaging in a regulated business activity. Rates and standards to be charged from consumers are approved by the state committee on tariffs of the Republic of Bashkortostan. Besides, since July 2019, the fee has not changed and it remains at the same level."
"Now an increasing number of regions are switching to the paid-on-delivery system, so payments will be higher in winter than they were previously, and lower in summer. As for paying up the difference that has arisen, this is a one-time event that will last just until the end of the heating season. And yes, this transition is completely legal. The only problem is that people are not asked whether it will be convenient for them. If people cannot pay, then there is a federal law according to which a family is entitled to a subsidy if total utility fees exceed 22% of its income. This system is more convenient for managing companies, because they stop crediting the consumers in winter. After all, earlier, payments in winter were below the actual consumption. However, the more the payment burden on people is, the less money will be paid. In fact, people have no money; they literally have nothing to pay. In the current situation of falling income and low paying capacity, any increase in fees will lead to a rapid growth of debts and defaults on payments. Therefore, if the officials decided to switch to a new system in order to reduce debts to the Bashkortostani heat distribution networks, but they will get the opposite effect," Sergey Krekov, leader of the StopZhKH party, told wek.ru.
Despite all the explanations, Ufa residents continue to storm the company’s offices and complain about what is happening. For instance, people not only in Ufa but also in the township of Ishimbay have sent complaints to Radiy Khabirov, the head of Bashkortostan. According to them, bills for heating specify the amount of 15,000 rubles ($ 228,96.) "A number of managing companies have accumulated a considerable debt to the regional heat distribution networks and now this debt should be promptly reduced," explained the representatives of the networks.
The regional authorities tried to take the situation under control. In particular, the legislature drafted a bill ‘On Introducing Amendments to the Code of the Russian Federation on Administrative Offences’. It provides for administrative liability of resource supplying organizations for violation of the procedure of charging utility bills. The amount of penalty for officials will make up from 50,000 to 100,000 rubles, for legal entities -- from 150,000 to 250,000 rubles. The bill will be submitted for consideration to the State Duma. According to Konstantin Tolkachev, the legislature speaker, the bill was made in response to the increasing number of residents' appeals. "People do not understand why the payments in the heating bills have suddenly grown many times over,” said Tolkachev. “At the moment, energy suppliers have no responsibility for violations in charging fees.”
Last weekend a number of activists and public figures from Ufa decided to create a public movement named StopBashRTS against increasing heating tariffs. Ivan Apayev, one of the initiators, claims that invitations to this protest meeting were sent out to both government agencies and public utility services. All Ufa residents who are willing to come there should bring the bills they have received. "In general, over the past seven years, Bashkortostan has seen a 100% increase in the heating fees, except its increase from July 1. Our main request to the Bashkortostani heat distribution networks is a 40% reduction in the heating fees," Apaev said. According to activist Albert Rakhmatullin, "Ildar Shafikov, chair of Bashkortostan's state committee for housing and construction supervision, announced that the scrutiny of bloated fees could last up to six months, and it's impossible to refuse the services of the regional heat distribution networks. This has become the last straw before the action of protest started. Dmitry Chuvilin, a deputy of Bashkortostan's state council, supported the audience and publicly stated that he believes that consumers of public utilities were deceived and their money was stolen.
Ivan Apayev told wek.ru that at present, the organization has already united more than 200 people, and in the short term they are ready to hold protest meetings and seek legal redress for fulfilling their demands. "The government is revising the rules of the game on a unilateral basis, so what else can people do? Only to protest. The authorities made this decision from the perspective of the interests of managing companies and utilities to reduce debts and relieve them of the burden of crediting the consumers. But nobody thought about the interests of people for whom these payments are too high. As a result, instead of reducing debts, the authorities will get a surge of tensions among the residents," Sergey Krekov commented on this situation. Reports have appeared that the activists led by Apayev have already applied for holding an action of protest on the problem of additional payments of the Bashkir heat distribution networks on February 29 at the Khimik community center. The protest’s organizers say about 400 people are going to come to the protest meeting.