A human tragedy was unfolding in suburban Oslo on Tuesday, after an elderly man was found frozen to death in his own home. The man, who lived a solitary life, had failed to pay his bills to utility company Hafslund, which, after unsuccessful attempts to contact him, had cut off his electricity.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the man, age 72, had no family and what’s been described as a “weak” social network. He lived alone in a row house in Bærums Verk, a residential community west of Oslo.
“We found the man dead in his home, and an autopsy report confirmed our suspicions that he had frozen to death,” Olav Brubakk of the Asker og Bærum Police District told NRK.
Police went to his unheated home last week after receiving calls from worried neighbours. Police believe he died before Christmas.
He hadn’t paid his electricity bill and utility firm Hafslund has tried to contact him over a period of seven months, according to spokesperson Karen Onsager. She said Hafslund sent notices in the mail, tried to call him and also attempted to visit him at his home, but received no response. On November 24, Hafslund cut off electricity to the row house.
“This is a terribly tragic and sad case,” Onsager told NRK Tuesday morning. “We have followed the rules and regulations that apply here, but a man has died, and we must reevaluate our routines.”
She also called for local authorities to play a role in such cases of social isolation: “We will ask for a review of the laws regulating the utilities’ cut-off practices, to see whether we also can warn social authorities in cases where we can’t get in contact with customers.”
She noted that if customers have problems paying their utility bills, “we ask them to contact the welfare officials to see whether they can get some support. They can also contact us and often we can find a solution that we all can live with.” Advocacy groups for senior citizens were shocked by the man’s death and demanded more restrictions on utility cut-offs.