The announced rise of electricity and gas prices has mobilized Slovak politicians and citizens alike to discuss energy poverty. One of the key concerns of Slovak STEP partner SOS is that the 18% gas price hike, along with 15% in electricity, will be felt the most by Slovakia’s poorest citizens.

In 2020, more than 600,000 people lived below the income poverty level in Slovakia, with those most at risk being multi-child households, single-parent households and children under 18 years of age. According to a survey of Statistical Office of Slovak Republic from July this year, in 2020 a total of 11.4 % of the population of Slovakia was at risk of income poverty.

Zemplín, lying on the border with Ukraine, is one of the poorest regions of Slovakia, which is why SOS recently conducted energy poverty trainings in the area. Many households in this region heat their homes by burning wood – a custom for centuries, and a readily available source of fuel in a region with a low average income. For the winter, families oftentimes move into a single room with a heater.

In the region, there is indeed some modern housing, which might perhaps be able to co-finance energy renovations or a heat pump installation – in fact, the state subsidy scheme for heat pumps, launched at the beginning of September 2021, exhausted a budget of €5.7 million in just four hours.

However, we know that those in energy poverty do not have access to ample savings to co-finance such projects, and moreover, vulnerable consumers often suffer a digital gap that would prevent them from applying for such initiatives in the first place.

During their workshops in Zemplín, SOS trained seniors, the unemployed, single parents, and people suffering from social deprivation. One of the biggest challenges SOS found was not in identifying the energy poor, but in helping those in energy poverty to acknowledge the reality of their situation, before trying to help them resolve it. For the front line workers involved, these workshops reinforced the need to engage and help build capacities among vulnerable consumers and the energy poor, particularly in a time of rising energy prices.

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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.