The government on Tuesday issued a decree forbidding the providers of electricity, gas, water, telephone, cable television and Internet service from cutting off customers for the next six months, even if bills go unpaid.
But the ban is not universal, ensuring the maintenance of “essential services” for “vulnerable sectors,” as well as small and medium-sized companies (the PYMES), most of whom are facing a liquidity crisis.
The ban also contemplates users who have already been warned of an interruption of service due to unpaid bills but not anybody who might now ignore paying their bills in the future. Nor are the providers obliged to continue full service to those not paying their bills but must offer a basic minimum for at least 180 days as from the start of this month (normal service is stipulated in the case of electricity). The ban does not apply to utilities cutting electricity, gas or other services on safety grounds.
The decree, published last Wednesday in the framework of the emergency legislation to combat the coronavirus pandemic, defines the ban as running from March 1. The obligation to maintain connectivity in the case of mobile telephones and Internet only runs until April 30 but service may only be cut if three consecutive bills go unpaid. The decree further freezes the price of liquid natural gas for the next six months.
The third and last article of the decree gives a long list of beneficiaries. The “vulnerable sectors” at residential level are: recipients of AUH and AUE family and maternity benefits; pensioners, formally employed and self-employed workers whose retirement benefits, salaries and earnings respectively do not exceed a double minimum wage (currently equivalent to 34,750 pesos); the self-employed registered in the Régimen de Monotributo Social; those collecting unemployment insurance, the “electro-dependent” as defined by Law 27,351; those in domestic service as defined by Law 26,844; citizens whose places of residence are exempt from ABL rates or local taxation.
The following non-residential users also stand to benefit from this decree if “affected by the emergency”: MiPyMES (micro-, small and medium-sized companies) as defined by Law 25,300; co-operatives and “recovered companies” (re-opened by their workers) registered with the National Institute of Social Economy (INAES); health institutions both public and private; charities contributing to the preparation and distribution of food in the framework of the food emergency.