Eight percent of all households in the EU are unable to keep their homes warm. This shows that energy poverty is by no means a fringe issue. Hence, the EU institutions are required to take effective measures during the coming legislative period to ensure that energy remains accessible to all Europeans.
On April 5th, 2019, the Group of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) responsible for transport and energy dealt with key issues within the scope of the forthcoming EU election. Apart from transport issues of the future and challenges in the digital world, a debate was held on energy poverty, which was also attended by AK EUROPA to explain in more detail the challenges from the point of view of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour.
Energy poverty not a fringe issue
Energy poverty is not a fringe issue. Due to surveys by Eurostat, we know that almost 8 % of households in Europe have a problem to keep their homes appropriately warm. The share in Bulgaria is particularly high and Lithuania coming close, with both more than 25 % of the households.
In Austria too, figures are giving cause for concern: according to the latest figures by Statistics Austria, 117,000 households are affected by energy poverty. This represents almost 3 % of all households. Energy poor households are spending 20 % of their disposable income on paying their energy bills.
No uniform definition
No binding uniform definition of energy poverty exists either at national or at EU level. The often-used approach that defines energy poor households with below average income and at the same time above average energy costs is not satisfactory. It does not cover all those who remain without energy as they cannot afford to pay their bills. Hence, a guideline is needed at European level to meet the requirements of this complex phenomenon.
Positive approaches in Austria
Within Europe, Austria is regarded as a country that has already taken a number of measures against energy poverty. Especially under the pressure of the Chamber of Labour, over the past years it has been regulated by law that additional costs for reminding notices, disconnection and reconnection electricity and gas are capped. The final official warning notice prior to electricity disconnection or gas supply has to be sent by registered letter. It is not permitted to cut off electricity and gas one day before a holidays or weekends. In addition, customers on low incomes are allowed to opt out of paying eco investment fees. Apart from that, customers can invoke basic supply if they are rejected by an electricity or gas supplier because of financial difficulties to be expected.
Measures by EU demanded
Within the scope of the Energy Package, which was adopted by the European institutions in 2018, the Chamber of Labour has successfully campaigned for Member States to be able to continue to grant social tariffs to those people who are affected by energy poverty. However, this only concerns the electricity sector, not gas or district heating. Hence, it is important that during the next legislative period measures against energy poverty are taken also in respect of these energy suppliers. Apart from that it needs mandatory regulations to increase the energy efficiency of households of energy poor customers as they cannot afford any efficiency measures. Only if energy efficiency – both from a construction point of view and in respect to the furnishing of flats with electric appliances – is increased, it will be possible to support people affected to significantly lower their energy consumption.
WU Wien, Federal Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Health and Consumer Protection (BMASGK): Study on determining a definition of energy poverty in Austria from the point of view of socio-economic and energy industry practice