As winter bites, Turks complain of rising gas bills

When Eren Erdem, a Turkish opposition politician, asked on Jan. 18 “how many people have received a natural gas bill over 350 lira ($59) this month?”, his social media post was liked by some 40,000 people and retweeted by nearly 2,000.

Lots of social media users told Erdem that 350 lira was low and said their gas bill was twice that. Some said they had given up using natural gas to avoid the large bills. 

Ahmet Turan lives in Istanbul. He said that when he received a gas bill of 500 lira in January, he had switched to an electric heater. “My electric bill was 73 lira last month. We will see how much I’ll pay after I started using an electric heater.”

For Turan, a 500-lira gas bill is equal to one-fifth of his 2,500 lira monthly salary. Ramazan Ergün, the head of the Natural Gas Engineers and Contractors Association, said that 322 lira of a 500-lira bill is for the gas, 5.98 lira pays for a special consumption tax, 76.12 lira is value-added tax and 85 lira is a fee for using the gas network. 

Ergün said that by decreasing the value-added tax to 1 percent, the government could significantly help people trying to cope with the effects of an economic downturn that started in 2018.

But high taxes are only one part of the problem. The main reason driving Turks to share their gas bills on social media with the hashtag #DoğalgazFaturası is the repeated price hikes. 

Five years ago, Istanbul residents paid 1.002 lira for one cubic metre of natural gas, according to figures on the website of Istanbul gas distributor IGDAŞ. In 2020, the same amount costs 1.522. 

The government in 2018 increased natural gas prices by 10 percent in January, 8 percent in September, and 9 percent in November. Then, as the country was heading to local elections last year, it decreased prices by 10 percent in January. Then, after the polls, it announced 15 percent hikes both in August and September. 

In 2019, Istanbul enjoyed extraordinarily warm weather until mid-December so many did not feel the higher gas prices until they received their bills in January. 

“Now they are bringing their bills to us and asking why they are that high. The real reason is the decrease in purchasing power,” Ergün said, referring to the weaker value of the lira making natural gas, all of which is imported from abroad, more expensive to consumers. 

According to the latest data announced by the official Turkish Statistical Institute, consumer prices increased in December by 11.84 percent, compared to the same month in 2018. 

Gas prices have therefore increased by more than inflation. To help people cope with the price rises, Istanbul municipality said it would allow residents to pay their bills in instalments. 

In Ankara, the head of the capital’s gas distributor, Başkentgaz, said last week that some 200,000 subscribers owed the company a total of 3.8 million lira ($639,000). 

Turkish consumers ask why they pay an average unit price of $250 to $280 for 1,000 cubic metres of natural gas, while people in Europe pay $110 to $120. 

The problem answering that question is that Turkey’s gas deals with other countries are not made public, said Mühdan Sağlam, an expert on energy policy. Only Russia’s Gazprom and Turkey’s Ministry of Energy really know the terms of the deals between them, she said. 

Istanbul Municipality this month opened access to all its data, including those on natural gas consumption. The data show natural consumption decreased in all of Istanbul’s districts between 2018 and 2019. Total gas consumption in the city of some 16 million people decreased to 5.5 billion cubic metres in 2019, from 6.4 cubic metres in 2018. 

The municipality’s data also show that per capita consumption is significantly higher in wealthier districts than in poorer ones.

Across the country, gas consumption decreased by16.8 percent in October 2019 compared to the same month of 2018, though that could be partly due to the warmer weather. But officials figures also show that 5.4 million gas subscriptions have been cancelled in the last four years. 

Many fear that in February, usually the coldest month of the year, they will struggle to pay their gas bills and heat their homes. 

© Ahval English

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.