The law protects individuals and families at risk of residential exclusion against being cut-off by the electricity, gas and drinking water suppliers due to failure to pay.
This means that these companies cannot cut-off the supply on the grounds of nonpayment in the event that there is the risk of residential exclusion.
Following the crisis, protection of the right to basic utilities has proved to be even more necessary. In fact, the Ombudsman, in his 2013 report on energy poverty, indicated that in Catalonia there were 193,000 households (6.9% of the total) who could not maintain the costs of keeping their house at a suitable temperature. And as described in the preamble of Catalan Law 24/2015, prices for access to basic utilities in the household are inaccessible for a significant portion of the population because, among other reasons, the price of electricity has increased by 60% since 2008, and water has increased by an average of 66%.
The measures established by regulations have the aim of preventing cut-offs to supplies and to establish grants or discounts in order to manage outstanding debt.
Who are basic utilities guaranteed to?
Individuals or families at risk of residential exclusion
This means that they have an income below:
- 2 times the IRSC (Catalonian Indicator of Income Sufficiency), if it is a person living alone.
- 2.5 times the IRSC, if it is a shared living unit (more than one person).
- 3 times the IRSC, in case of disabled or severely dependent individuals.
Exceptionally, if earnings are greater but there is an imminent risk of losing the home, the social service that assesses whether the individual or family can be deemed to be at risk of residential exclusion can also be requested.
The measures to ensure the right to access to water, electricity and gas suppliers also apply to cases in which, despite not fulfilling the income requirements, a person is living in the household who is affected by energy dependency (individuals that require assistance machines to survive).
Annex 1 of the Guide for individuals and families who have financial problems related to maintaining water, electricity and gas supplies specifies the earnings that determine the risk of residential exclusion.
What should I do if I receive a notice of non-payment of a bill?
In the notice of non-payment of a bill the supplier company will request you, the consumer, to authorise the use of their personal data with the sole purpose of requesting a report from municipal social services to find out if you are at risk of residential exclusion.
You should contact the social services of each municipality. The social services must then issue the report within 15 days of the request by the supplier company.
If you do not appear before the social services within a maximum of 2 months, these services inform the supplier companies that they cannot determine whether you are at risk of residential exclusion.
In a second communication, if you send a notice of supply cut-off, the company informs you that, understanding there was no opposition, they have used the your information to request the aforementioned report from the municipal social services. This is the document that determines if you are at risk of residential exclusion.
What to do if your supply is unduly cut off
If the supply company cuts off the supply even though the individual or family is actually at risk of residential exclusion, this is a violation of the law. In this case, you need to go back to the municipal social services to suspend this cut-off.
You can also report the undue cut-off to the municipal or regional public consumption service (the Regional Consumer Information Offices and the Municipal Consumer Information Offices).
The Consumer Code envisages penalties for companies who violate the law, which may constitute an administrative infringement in defense of the consumers or users.
Measures to ensure basic utilities
As reported by the law, public authorities must come to agreements or conventions with the supplier companies of drinking water, gas and electricity to ensure that they grant refundable aid to individuals and families at risk of residential exclusion or apply significant discounts to the cost of minimum consumption.