Electricity bills pile up. It is not the pure cost for electricity that makes it unaffordable to many Greek households struggling with unemployment. It is the extra charges incl. municipality taxes and state broadcast fees doubling the amount a consumer has to pay to the Greek Public Power Company. There are dozens, if not hundreds households living in the dark, because they simply have no money available to pay the electricity bills.
Reuters has a powerful report about “Greece’s Dark Age” and “How austerity turned off the lights.”
It featured the story of Argyrios family: two parents without job, four small children.
Kostas Argyros’s unpaid electricity bills are piling up, among a mountain of debt owed to Greece’s biggest power utility. His family owe 850 euros to the Public Power Corporation (DEHr.AT) (PPC), a tiny fraction of the state-controlled firm’s 2.6 billion euros ($2.8 billion) in unpaid bills.
Argyros picks up only occasional work as an odd-job man. “When you only work once a week, what will you pay first?” said the 35-year-old, who lives in a tiny apartment in an Athens suburb with his unemployed wife and four small children. (
The Argyros family are emblematic of deepening poverty in Greece following seven years of austerity demanded by the country’s international creditors. They burn wood to heat their home in winter, food is cooked on a small gas stove, and hot water is scarce.
The only evening light is the blue glare of a TV screen, for fear of racking up more debt. Five-watt lightbulbs provide a dim glow and Argyros worries about the effect on their eyesight. More than 40 percent of Greeks are behind on their utility bills, higher than anywhere else in Europe.
People in poor neighborhoods are also increasingly turning to energy fraud, meaning that the problem for PPC is much higher than the mountain of unpaid bills suggests.
Power theft is costing PPC around 500-600 million euros a year in lost income, an industry official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge the numbers.
PPC declined to comment on the figure. Public disclosures by the Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator HEDNO, which checks meters, show that verified cases of theft climbed to 10,600 last year, up from 8,880 in 2013 and 4,470 in 2012.
Authorities believe theft is far higher than the cases verified by HEDNO, another official said, declining to be named.
For households who have had their electricity cut off, a group of activists calling themselves the “I Won’t Pay” movement have taken it upon themselves to reconnect the supply. The group says it has done hundreds this year. (full story Reuters)
Although the PPC has been offering more arrangements to debtors on how to pay their debts, still many cannot afford to pay an installment of 30 euros per month plus the current bill. The PPC launched a 15% discount to those paying the bill on time. these is the so-called social price for those in need. But yet it is diffuclt if the monthly income is zero euro. At least this heinous Property Tax was removed from the bill two years ago. But when it was introduced in 2011, the PPC workers started to cut power in one home after the other.
Energy cost in Greece increased at 157% in the last ten years. We are in the seventh years of the economic crisis.
For some people in my middle class neighborhood, the question is: Pay the electricity bill or Buy food.