Since the law against energy poverty in Catalonia was approved in 2015, more than 200,000 power outages have been avoided due to non-payment of bills. This is the most exhaustive figure known to date, collected by the Aliança per la Pobresa Energètica (APE) and Enginyeria Sense Fronteres in a report presented this Thursday. His estimate is that more than 100,000 households have benefited from this emergency coverage, although the big problem with the rule continues to be who assumes the debt, whether the families, the Administration or the companies.
Justice knocks down more than half of the fines imposed on electricity companies for energy poverty in Catalonia
The authors of the report collected their data from a request for access to information addressed to the then Department of Labor, Social Affairs and Family – today of Social Rights – for the period between 2015, when the law was unanimously approved in the Parliament, and 2020. In total, in these five years at least 286,103 Residential Exclusion Risk Reports (IRER) were processed by local administrations, the tool with which social services prove the vulnerability necessary to prevent the cut . But not all of these reports are positive. In the lists of defaults that companies send to administrations, 18.2% do not meet the requirements. Hence, it is estimated that the number of cuts that have surely been avoided is around 200,000.
However, Maria Campuzano, spokesperson for the APE, has argued that this figure is the result of a “conservative” calculation, because it is based on the responses provided by 693 municipalities, which are not all that exist in Catalonia, although they represent 83% of the population. “We are convinced that many more cuts have been avoided,” he assured.
Law 24/2015, on urgent measures in the field of energy poverty and housing, establishes that the supply of electricity, water or gas to a home cannot be cut off if it is at risk of vulnerability. You must first request a report from social services. “The reality is that at the beginning very little was applied, but after the case of Reus in 2016 [una mujer mayor falleció en un incendio fruto de la pobreza energética] the electricity companies began to comply because the Generalitat began to sanction them ”, argued Campuzano. The problem is that many of these fines have recently been dropped in court.
The report also collects data on aid paid by local administrations and the Generalitat for the payment of bills. In total, 35.3 million euros for 184,000 family units that again do not reflect the entirety of the photograph, since in this case the data corresponds to 70% of the population of Catalonia.
These compensations, however, are not the scenario desired by the APE, which insists that it should not be the public Administration that assumes the cost of energy poverty, but rather the utility companies. “We will not tire of repeating that we must sign agreements with the suppliers so that they are the ones who assume the debt of the families,” Campuzano insisted on Thursday.
This is today the main knot to unravel in the deployment of the law. The norm establishes that agreements must be signed so that the suppliers are the ones who assume the invoice of the defaults, but they are not obliged. In this sense, they have given as an example the case of Endesa, which in March 2021 reached an agreement with the Generalitat to take over the part of the debt accumulated over the years by 35,518 unpaid households. Specifically, 100% of invoices from 2015 to 2018 and 50% from 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Despite everything, from the APE and Enginyeria sense Fronteres regret that it is still unknown to know how many vulnerable families if the electricity or gas is cut, since this data is in the hands of the companies and they do not make it public. And they also remember that the suppression of supplies is only the most “extreme” part of energy poverty. “We are talking about people who stop paying bills, but before there are many others who pay at the cost of depriving themselves of other basic needs or who ask for money to do so, and this is also energy poverty,” recalled Campuzano.