6 December, 2021

Stories from the front lines: “Fighting energy debts” 

Víctor lives alone in  Santa Coloma. He is facing legal action from his energy company for his energy debt. He wasn’t able to consult a lawyer and couldn’t access public support as energy advice centres in Barcelona were flooded with requests. Santa Coloma does not have the same energy advice centres as Barcelona, and the office cannot always deal with complex cases that go beyond unpaid bills.

In APE’s assemblies, Víctor learned about different options available to him with fellow members. APE then contacted the company’s lawyers, asking them to drop the charges in exchange for a debt payment plan that fits Víctor’s low income. APE is aiming to get part of his debt written off — and the company has agreed to negotiate.

APE’s action goes beyond individual cases. Victor was part of the movement freeing 35,000 households from energy debt in March 2021: an amazing victory in a country where 1 in 10 habitants are late in paying their utility bills, a figure that will likely rise alongside energy prices. Thanks to the campaign, energy companies had to cover more than 28 million euros of debts, 73% of the debt accumulated since 2015, and contribute to a fund for future non-payments. The agreement closes the circle of the first law driven by civil society in 2015, which banned disconnections from electricity for vulnerable households.

Very few countries have implemented safeguards to limit disconnections and prevent the accumulation of energy debt — which puts millions at risk as energy prices skyrocket. Catalonia is a leading example of how we can work to deliver the right to energy as a human right across Europe and challenge neoliberal energy companies. To effectively ensure the right to energy for all, the Right to Energy coalition demands a ban on disconnections and the supply of a minimum amount of energy for all