Portuguese consumer group DECO is continuing its energy poverty advocacy efforts ahead of the winter season and a second wave of COVID-19.

DECO met with Portugal’s four biggest energy suppliers (Endesa, Goldenergy, EDP and GALP) to discuss energy poor consumers who have requested instalment plans for energy bills due to the pandemic. There has been a substantial increase in the number of consumer requests for instalment plans (one supplier mentioned as much as +400% compared to 2019). In some cases, a worrying 50% are not paying, raising the prospect of energy cut-offs in the coming months. DECO presented the STEP project to the four energy suppliers and gave an overview of its upcoming activities.

DECO also decided not to support the prolongation of protection against energy cut-offs, which was valid until 30 September 2020 for unemployed or furloughed consumers and COVID patients. Repayment plans will start to be due in November, and the monthly instalments will add to regular energy bills, which also rise in winter.

Many families are now free of some credit payments with their banks due to the moratoria until March 2021. Credit repayments will then become due again, adding to other debts, such as energy bills. Continuing with the exceptional protection against energy cuts, would therefore only delay the problem creating extra debt and contribute to higher energy bills. It would also put the financial stability of some smaller energy suppliers at risk. DECO has also been asking for more flexibility regarding social tariffs. This is because 2020 income will only be used a criteria for social tariffs in 2021, many families are not benefitting from them right now, when they need it most.

In other news, DECO met with the International Energy Agency, which is currently reviewing Portugal’s energy policies and is looking for consumer feedback. DECO addressed energy poverty issues and provided an overview of STEP’s recommendations.

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The STEP project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 847080.