ELECTRICITY firms will be required to give three warnings and then wait at least four months before cutting off power due to non-payment, according to a draft law sent to Spain's 17 autonomously-governed regions by the central government.
Two months' grace after the three warnings will be given to the average householder, but those listed as 'vulnerable' or who are in receipt of social service funding, or registered with the electricity board for benefits reducing their bills due to poverty, will get a four-month breathing space to try to find the money before they lose their connection.
Spain's ministry for energy has drawn up the law text based upon the contributions of all political groups which supported the move for 'energy benefits' to be allowed to very low-income households on a means-tested basis.
Income levels are set for those who qualify, but are higher for householders with disabilities or who have to care for disabled relatives full-time.
Utility boards must now inform customers of their non-payment as soon as this occurs, then request the money via a legal document known as a burofax sent by registered post, or by email with a digital signature.
A second, then third and final warning will be given via alternative means to ensure it reaches the customer, and if, within two months of the third warning, the bill has not been paid, then the company can cut the householder off.
If they qualify as a low-income or 'vulnerable' customer, they will not be cut off for another four months.
Regional authorities must also be informed, and will keep a permanent database of customers whose supply has been disconnected so they can check whether those affected are considered 'at risk of social exclusion' and take the necessary measures.
These households are generally defined as those where the social services pays at least 50% of the bill.
Where this is the case, the social services and the utility board wil co-finance the cost of the bill to stop the supply being cut off.
All warnings from power companies must give information about 'voluntary prices for small consumers' and 'energy benefits' that the customer may be able to avail him- or herself of.
Electricity boards are not allowed to apply 'admin fees' for switching the contract to either of these.
The new law has been brought in following pressure by left-wing opposition members and social organisations sparked by the death of an elderly lady last year.
Her house caught fire after a candle she used for light – her electricity having been cut off because she could not pay her bills – having tipped over and, as she was partially disabled, could not get out of her apartment in time.