Government may fine Gas Natural over death of old woman allegedly due to energy poverty
The Catalan Government may sanction the energy company Gas Natural Fenosa over the death of an 81-year-old woman, who died on Sunday night in a fire at her home in Reus. All evidence points to the victim, whose energy supply was cut off two months ago, being affected by energy poverty and illuminating the flat with candles. Indeed, the candles appear to be the cause of the fire that burned the mattress where she slept, according to the investigation carried out by the Catalan police, Mossos d’Esquadra. Municipal sources explained in a press conference this Tuesday that the Social Services of the City Hall were not aware of the woman’s lack of electricity due to a non-payment, as they didn’t receive any request for financial assistance, nor a notification from the supplier. Gas Natural now has a period of five days to respond and prove that it fulfilled the established protocols, otherwise the Catalan Government will fine the company.
Barcelona (CNA).- The death in a domestic fire of an old woman whose electricity supply was cut off and had to illuminate her property with candles has aroused controversy over responsibility for the accident. The Catalan Government has announced it will sanction the supplier Gas Natural Fenosa if it fails to provide evidence that it notified Reus City Hall about the woman’s disconnection. Indeed, municipal sources explained in a press conference this Tuesday that the Social Services of the City Hall were not aware of the woman’s lack of electricity due to non-payment, as they didn’t receive any request for financial assistance, nor a notification from the supplier. The Catalan Minister for Business and Knowledge, Jordi Baiget, confirmed that the Government has issued eighteen fines of 10,000 euros to suppliers for violating the current regulations. In this vein, he guaranteed that it will continue acting “with full force" against such cases.
To shed light on the success, the Government has already submitted an information request to the company in order to know the procedure it followed before cutting off the supply. The Catalan Minister for Business and Knowledge, Jordi Baiget, explained this Tuesday that “allegedly” the company did not warn anyone before carrying out the disconnection, contrary to what the law requires. Gas Natural now has a period of five days to respond and prove that it fulfilled the established protocols.
According to Catalan Law 24/2015, passed by the Catalan Parliament in July 2015, suppliers cannot cut off light, water or gas without previously checking the economic situation of the person and conveying the decision to social services.
Reus City Hall and the supplier pointing fingers at each other
Meanwhile, the supplier and Reus City Hall are blaming each other. While the Councillor for Social Welfare of Reus City Council, Montserrat Vilella, claimed this morning that Gas Natural Fenosa had not informed them about situation, the energy company released a statement accusing the city hall of not including the woman who passed away on the list of vulnerable clients. The local administration and the supplier have used this ‘list’ mechanism since 2014 and this has prevented 150 households from being cut off to date, Gas Natural said.
In this vein, Vilella reminded that Law 24/2015 requires companies to notify social services of any imminent power cut, so that the administration can determine whether the family is vulnerable and avoid the cut through the public aids devoted to this issue.
According to the councillor, the victim was tended to by the social services of the City Council since 2013 and received help to pay the water supply. She lived with her granddaughter, who was not in the flat the night of the tragic event.
Alliance against Energy Poverty accuses Gas Natural of bypassing the law
The Alliance against Eergy Poverty (AEP) has urged the Government to have an “active role” in fighting against energy poverty and fine those companies who cut off the supply before notifying those affected. According to AEP’s spokeswoman, Maria Campuzano, Gas Natural was “well aware of its duties” and accused the company of “coming out with excuses” when pointing to a lack of clarity in the legislation explaining the procedure.
Campuzano also pointed out that Gas Natural’s communiqué doesn’t refer to Law 24/2015, which is the one currently in force but to a previous one. “We have been warning the Catalan Government about the fact that energy companies have repeatedly failed to comply with this law” Campuzano told the CNA and added that the executive “waits for the customer to report it”. However, she lamented that many citizens “don’t know much about the law” and therefore they “don’t know that these unfulfilments can be reported”.
320,000 families suffer from energy poverty in Catalonia
The number of people suffering from energy poverty in Catalonia has risen exponentially in the last years. According to the AEP, in 2015 about 320,000 families found it difficult to keep their homes warm in the winter.
According to the Catalan Institute of Statistics (Idescat), 20.9% of homes were in a situation which could be defined as energy poverty in 2014 and 26% were at social risk. Moreover, the rise in the cost of electricity and the shortcomings of the housing supply in terms of energy ratings have worsened this trend.