One in every eight households in Malta have fallen behind in the payment of their utility bills, according to a survey on the rise of the cost of living in Europe and the impact of Covid-19 pandemic.

According to this study carried out by Eurofound 12% of Maltese households declared having energy bills arrears. Though when compared to the rest of Europe the rate is relatively low, this should be taken into the context of the fact that utility rates in Malta have remained the same despite the spike in fuel prices. Consequently, should the government no longer be in a position to absorb the additional energy generation costs, it would have to increase rates. In turn, this would spell trouble for thousands of households who are already struggling to make ends meet.

A closer look at the statistics reveals that the countries with lowest percentage of households with utility bills arrears are Denmark and Sweden with around 7%, Moreover, the respective percentage  of Germany, the Netherlands, Czechia, Estonia and Austria are lower than Malta. On the other hand, the situation in Greece and Cyrpus is very alarming. According to Eurofound  half of the households in Greece are falling back on their utility bills payments, followed by Cyprus with 39%.

Respondents who took part in this survey were also asked if they were concerned of possible payment problems in the coming months. The levels of concern varied between 12% in Malta, which had the lowest rate up to 63% in Greece. The data shows that those already in arrears are more likely to be more worried for the near future.

Energy poverty, the term used for those who cannot afford to pay their utility bills, is a concern which has raised its head particularly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. Several European countries like Germany and Italy whose oil and gas supplies came from Russia, all of a sudden had to seek alternative markets. In turn, this triggered a spike in international fuel prices.

As a matter of fact, in just two years the average number of EU households reporting arrears in utility bills has increased from 11% in 2020 to 16% this year. Similarly, respondents who expressed concern they might face problems in the near future rose to 28%.

While being in arrears with utility bills tends to be more common among respondents living in social housing, even respondents who have paid off their mortgage report problems in this respect compared to the previous year.