Protecting the Right to Electricity

2 February 2022

Israel’s Supreme Court has expanded the protection offered to Israelis unable to pay their electricity bills following a petition by NIF grantees the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI). Until now, if a customer didn’t pay an electric bill, the law only prevented the government-owned Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) from disconnecting their power when they were dependent on power for certain life-saving medical equipment.

However, in their latest ruling last month, the Supreme Court Justices ruled that, “electricity supply is closely related to the basic right to live in dignity and the right to life and health; so protection [of electricity supply] is related to the legal right to human dignity.”

The Supreme Court ruling makes it more difficult for the IEC and the Public Electricity Authority, which oversees it, to cut customers off. The court has ordered them to expand criteria that exempts customers from disconnection. In particular, the IEC can no longer disconnect customers as an automatic means to collect unpaid bills.

Since 2018, the IEC has used three methods to recover unpaid bills. Disconnection, reduction of the power supply, or installing a meter that requires electricity to be paid for in advance. The only people exempt from these methods are Holocaust survivors and people dependent on electricity for life-saving equipment. These exemptions will now be expanded to people who suffer from chronic health conditions who frequently survive on small pensions and social security payments.

The judges pointed out that while the current exceptions around “vital equipment” included some medical machinery, they do not include refrigerators, which are vital to keep medicines, inhalers, and even respiratory equipment cool. Nor did they consider the vital needs around preserving food, or having heating in the winter.

The court has not only instructed the IEC to expand the criteria for what is life-saving electricity but also granted customers a hearing before the IEC can cut off their electricity.

Justice Yitzhak Amit wrote, “The petitioners should be praised for bringing this action to the court.” ACRI said, “We are thrilled and we hope that this will begin a new era in protecting disadvantaged populations from having their electricity disconnected.”