EU citizens take legal action over utility bills
A group of EU citizens furious at being charged one-third more for water and electricity than their Maltese counterparts have filed a Constitutional case arguing that discriminatory pricing legislation violates European laws.
In their application, filed by lawyer Juliette Galea, the 25 non-Maltese residents asked the court to nullify existing pricing regulations and protect their rights to refund for any excess payments they were forced to make to date. They cite EU internal market directives that explicitly prohibit discriminatory practices based “directly or indirectly” on nationality or place of residence.
Residents from Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland have all signed up to the case filed against Enemalta, the Water Services Corporation, the Attorney General, the Malta Resources Authority and the finance and resources ministers.
Electricity pricing regulations divide household electricity use into two separate bands: a ‘residential’ tariff for the primary home of Maltese citizens and a ‘domestic’ tariff, which is 30 per cent higher, reserved for second homes and non-residents. Water prices also vary. While consumers on residential tariffs are charged €1.47 per cubic metre of water, those on domestic tariffs pay €2.30.
Until recently, non-Maltese EU citizens living here had to go through what they described as a “bureaucratic nightmare” to prove residency and become eligible for the lower residential tariffs.
That system is now in the process of being phased out in favour of an e-card system that has immediately come unstuck, with night-long queues to apply leaving many applicants exhausted and bewildered.
Government officials have long argued that, once the distinction between residential and domestic tariffs is based on residency and not nationality, it does not violate EU common market rules.
But plaintiffs in the Constitutional case filed yesterday are contesting this distinction, quoting a 2006 EU Internal Market directive, which states that access to a service “may not be denied or restricted by application of a criterion... relating to the recipient’s nationality or place of residence”.
The Constitutional case comes hot on the heels of two separate judicial protests filed by a group of 80. The protests were targeted at the entities and ministers cited in the case filed yesterday.
Dr Galea said “Many non-Maltese residents still haven’t heard about our case. We’re determined to see this through.”