The Catalan Ombudsman recommends institutions to actively combat energy poverty


(c) Jordi Soteras

Rafael Ribó proposes a "winter truce" for people at risk of exclusion to stop cuts of light, gas and water for non-payment

He also proposes to set up a social price for butane and to bank on progressive pricing of water supply

Some other proposals for possible immediate application are a Working Group, to disseminate information about grants and allowances, to involve the network of houses of social inclusion and promoting educational actions for energy saving

Within the framework of an exofficio action to analyze the growing social phenomenon of energy poverty in Catalonia, the Catalan Ombudsman has produced a report to highlight the lack of a public policy regarding this new reality. The report wants to approach it from a global, cross-cutting and co-ordinated perspective.

While it is not possible to accurately quantify the number of people affected or to know its features, energy poverty is the result of three factors: the low level of income, the insufficient quality of the housing and the high prices of basic supplies (electricity, gas and water).

The survey of living conditions (IDESCAT, 2011) indicates that this problem affects 193.000 homes (about 500,000 people), a lower percentage of households to the European Union’s one regarding energy poverty for the EU-27. 

Based on the documentation provided, meetings held with the Government, suppliers and institutions involved and from the experiences of countries such as the United Kingdom or France, the Ombudsman has recommended a set of measures to combat energy poverty in Catalonia.

One of the proposals is to set up a "winter truce" consisting of the non-interruption of supplies for non-payment during the winter period for those people in a situation of poverty. Furthermore, the Ombudsman encourages the supplying companies to reach agreements with affected people so that they can make the total annual payment or only those invoices corresponding to the winter period in instalments throughout the rest of the year. In addition, the Catalan Ombudsman proposes that the interruption of supplies be limited to persons or families with an income below the IRSC (indicator of sufficiency of income). 

Other operating measures and which could be implemented immediately are:

1. To publicly acknowledge the initiatives carried out by administrations, companies and organizations to combat energy poverty.

2. The Catalan Government should create a Working Group that brings together all the parts involved.

3. Disclosure of existing aid, fares, tickets and any other measure must be promoted.

4. The network of houses of social inclusion can be an ideal tool to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged groups in terms of supplying.

5. The especially sheltered groups by the consumer code, such as, children and adolescents, elderly and sick people or those with disabilities must be particularly taken into account.

6. The exchange of information between suppliers and basic social services should be an essential tool in the detection and prevention of both personal and family situations of energy poverty.

Regarding the regulatory measures, some of the highlights are:

1) To evaluate the inclusion of a module on home energy savings in Compulsory Secondary School.

2) Catalan Government must take action before State Administration to establish a social price for butane.

3) To assess the necessary legislative changes to allow the consumer paying the bill to benefit from discounts, not only the policy holder

4) Catalan Water Agency (ACA) should take charge of debt management for the water rates taking into account the energy poverty. 

5) To support progressive water rates (the price increases with the increase of consumption).

6) To modify regulations regarding the cost of reconnection, taking into account the vulnerability of people that have had interrupted the electricity supply because of economic reasons.

The Catalan Ombudsman sent the proposals and considerations included in this report to the Catalan Government and public bodies involved in the field, to the companies providing services of general interest and also to some institutions that have collaborated in producing the report.

In this regard, the Ombudsman held meetings on this issue with the Ministry of Social Welfare and Family, the Catalan Energy Institute (ICAEN ), the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Industrial Safety (Department of Enterprise and Employment), the Quality of Life, Equality and Sports Department (City Council), the Federation of Municipalities of Catalonia, the Catalan Association of Municipalities and Regions, Caritas Diocese of Barcelona, ​​Catalonia Red Cross, the Foundation Mambre, the Third Sector Body of Catalonia, Endesa, Agbar and Gas Natural Fenosa.

He also exchanged information with the Ombudsman Services (UK), the Médiateur of Energie (France ) and the Mediation Service of Energie / Ombudsman Energie ( Belgium).

The Catalan Ombudsman did also sent the report to the Catalan Consumer Agency and the Agency of Water from Girona, Salt and Sarrià de Ter.