Historic commitment against energy poverty

2 min
Rally of the Fuel Poverty Alliance while signing the agreement to forgive the debt of thousands of families with Endesa

In the midst of paralysis and uncertainty due to the lack of agreement to form a government, this Monday there has been a historic commitment in the field of social rights: the electricity company Endesa has become the first to sign an agreement with the Generalitat and the four provincial councils to jointly assume the unpaid bills of 35,000 vulnerable families. Under the agreement, which is an offshoot of the decree 24/2015 against energy poverty, Endesa will write off 73% of the debt, while the rest will be paid by the administrations. The Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, Chakir el Homrani, has expressed his confidence that the rest of the distribution companies will end up joining the measure.

The agreement is also due to the struggle of an entity such as the Alliance against Energy Poverty (APE), born in 2014 with the aim of ensuring universal access to basic supplies (electricity, water and gas) and that in recent years has won important victories, such as the prohibition of cutting off vulnerable families' electricity supply. As happened with the Mortgage Association (PAH), the APE has had the ability to introduce the concept of energy poverty into the political debate with cases such as the death of an 81-year-old woman in Reus in 2016 in a fire caused by burning candles in her house because Gas Natural had cut off her electricity supply.

The cancellation of the debt alleviates the situation of thousands of families who lived with the sword of Damocles of legal action against them for non-payment. In addition, from now on a fund will be created between the administrations and distribution companies, each paying for half of its costs, to deal with debts of these types. The agreement, in reality, benefits everyone and is an example to follow, since the company would hardly have collected the almost €40m of existing debt. Endesa is acting intelligently by accepting a settlement in exchange for receiving €10.6m from the public coffers and making a move that has an undeniably positive impact on the perception of its image. They have understood before the rest that in today's society companies are asked not only to be efficient, but also to have a "soul", what is called corporate social responsibility. Thus, the formula of social pressure, skilled administrations willing to disburse resources and responsible companies has been a success.

It is estimated that 11% of the population suffers from energy poverty, that is, they have difficulty paying their bills. As a society we have already understood that we cannot afford to have homes with children or elderly people without heating in winter, and that is why it is only fair that companies, which make huge profits, and the public administration look for ways to help these people. However, we will have to redouble our efforts so that the rest of the large distribution companies join the agreement and do the same in their field (water, gas, etc.) in order to reach a larger part of the population. In this case, the pressure must come not only from activists, but also from consumers, who increasingly take into account a company's values before contracting its services.