In case you needed another reason to move to Spain, more than 41,000 vulnerable households in sunny Catalonia have just had their energy debt written off. That is €18 million (£16m) worth of outstanding payments taken off the shoulders of families forced to choose between bills, food and rent.
Meanwhile in the UK, millions of people are behind on their bills after energy prices more than doubled in a year. Hundreds of thousands have had prepayment meters forcibly installed in their homes and every 10 seconds, someone is cut off from power and left in a cold and dark home because they can’t top up their meter. Energy bills will be going up even further in April.
“Catalonia is definitely showing the way forward,” says Ruth London, of Fuel Poverty Action. “Most customers’ energy debts are the result of unjust pricing and energy policies which have impacted millions of people worldwide through no fault of their own. They should be written off and the policies which produced them should be urgently changed.”
Catalonia, an autonomous region in north-east Spain whose capital is Barcelona, has supported people living in fuel poverty for years. In 2015, its parliament banned electricity disconnections for vulnerable households. Then in 2021, it made a deal with energy company Endesa to support families living in energy poverty.
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Around 35,000 households were freed of their energy debts that year, and 41,000 more will benefit this year. Local authorities pay the company half of what is owed, and the rest is written off, with the slate wiped clean for vulnerable families.
“It is a scandal that in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, thousands die every winter due to fuel poverty and cold homes,” London adds. “UK governments have lagged far behind Europe in ensuring good housing standards and efficient, green affordable heating systems.