EU drafts rules to stop power suppliers cutting off vulnerable consumers
By Kate Abnett
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union countries will have to protect vulnerable consumers from being cut off by electricity suppliers if they cannot pay their bills, according to draft EU rules due to be published on Tuesday.
The proposal is part of a broader upgrade of Europe's electricity market rules, which Brussels pledged to rewrite last year when soaring gas and electricity prices, driven by Russia cutting gas supplies to Europe, left consumers across Europe struggling to pay their energy bills.
A draft of the proposed law, seen by Reuters on Monday, said: "Member States shall ensure that vulnerable customers are protected from electricity disconnections."
The draft added that suppliers and national authorities should make measures available to help vulnerable consumers manage their energy use and costs.
EU countries decide which consumers to class as "vulnerable", based on factors such as income level or relying on health equipment that runs on electricity, such as a ventilator.
Currently, there is no explicit legal protection against disconnections, although the EU requires energy suppliers to give consumers information about support like prepayment systems and debt management advice ahead of a planned disconnection.
The article on disconnections was not in a previous draft of the proposal, reported by Reuters last week.
Green members of European Parliament wrote to the European Commission on March 8 urging it to ban disconnections for vulnerable people in the upcoming proposal.
"Millions of people in Europe currently have to make the choice between either buying food for their family or heating their home," said the letter, led by German lawmaker Michael Bloss.
Some governments have already banned disconnections nationally, such as Ireland, which did so this winter for vulnerable consumers struggling with soaring energy bills.
The draft EU power market reform, which could still change before it is published, would also expand the use of long-term fixed-price power contracts, to attempt to shield consumers from price spikes.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Marguerita Choy)