December 6th 2015, flags did not were rise at half-mast. They should have done it in Rosa’ memory. An old lady that have died three weeks before in a fire. It started from some candles that lighted her after the electricity supplier disconnected her from the grid because she did not pay some bills.
The Spanish Electric Sector Act lets the electricity supplier to interrupt the electricity provision for debts. The economic crisis that hit very hard family incomes and public resources, multiplied non-payments.
The Spanish central government, overwhelmed by the denominated tariff deficit, difference between the electricity sector incomes and costs, was ready to invoke that its legal capabilities were invaded by the autonomous communities; but reluctant to exercise them and laying down its own solutions. In this way, the central government short-circuited the autonomic attempts to postpone the power interruptions, as the winter truces from Catalan legislation, that the European directives set as a possibility and that different member states apply. The electricity suppliers argued that the word “energy” was an adjective for the noun poverty and that to fight against that is the real solution and that it is a public responsibility. For all these reasons, the attempts to set effective warning mechanisms to detect risk situations, got shipwrecked.
Since then, we have, as so many times happen, good and bad news.The good one is that the day before Christmas 2016, the Official Journal published a Royal decree-law, agreed by the two main parliamentary groups, popular and socialist, that improved the protection to vulnerable consumers. For the first time, to disconnect electric power to families in a particular situation of social fragility was ban. It was designed with a smart legal technique, considering them essential supplies.
Bad news is that the Central Government delayed until eight months to approve the bylaw to apply it and when it did it, through the Royal decree 897/2017, it built a complex and centralized procedure; it sidestepped local and autonomous administrations, with competence in social services, and as a result, the protection rate forecasted was as low as the 45% of households which deserve it in accordance to law. After six months in force, the number of applications of the social bond (discount of 25% – 40% in special cases – on the regulated tariff) for families with income levels up €11.279 or €18.798, depending on their number of members and circumstances, forced the Government to extend it for six months more. This period which lasts until October 8th, gives margin to lighten the procedure and to distribute better the responsibilities between different administrations.
Some ideas to do that: as long as competition in the retail electricity market could be, according to official data, much better, makes sense that companies in the sector will help to finance aid to vulnerable consumers. Generalize the contribution, without excluding any activity (production, transmission, distribution), rather than limiting it to marketing, and basing it on each one turnover, it is the safest way to avoid the objections of discrimination and lack of transparency that led the Supreme Court, repeatedly, to cancel the contribution rules.
The procedure to apply for aid can be simplified. Really do need minors older than 14 years, members of the family unit, to sign the application? Why on earth it is not enough that their parents do that for them?
Rather than order the municipal social services which reports have to prepare, why not to ask them which problems they have to know the families’ income and what difficulties face in the communication process with the distributors and how to give a solution to these difficulties?.
The Central Government should constitute a fund financed with the tax system, without excluding a contribution from autonomous community’s budgets, for non-payment of invoices that not derives from lack of competition in the market but from customers’ individual conditions.
Prosumers should be able to, freely, devote its surplus to alleviate the problem once removed the today ban on it. It would be consistent with the legislative package “clean power for all European”, which places the customer as active and central subject of the system and which nowadays are negotiating the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.
Our Society, proclaimed social and democratic rights in the Spanish Constitution of 1978. To honor this commitment requires a reasonable legislation; coordinated administrations to solve problems; companies aware of their duties when supply services of general economic interest. Civil society has shown his involvement with economic support, legislative initiatives and mobilizations.
The Central Government has the challenge of leading this collective effort to provide effective response to more than 6 million people at risk of energy poverty in Spain, adding and recognizing supports, so that energy poverty becomes a tragic memory from past. Flags, better raised until top the mast.
Enric R. Bartlett Castellà, Associate Professor of Public Law, ESADE Business & Law School (URL)
To gain a deep insight:”Energy poverty: legal regulation and people’ rights protection” Edited by
Federació de Municipis de Catalunya and Transjus. General Coordination and Academic Direction: Juan Ignacio Soto Valle, Juli Ponce Solé
This post translates into English an article which abridged version was published in Spanish on CincoDías on August 10th 2018.