Telecommunications and energy in top place for inadequate services. Ever more aggressive commercial practices and unprotected citizens. Presenting the XII Report on Cittadinanzattiva’s PIT Services (created on Thursday, 13th September 2012)

Companies turned nasty by the crisis and consumers thrown into the fray of the economic front  and that of citizen protection. This is the effect of the crisis that emerges from the XII PIT services 2012 “Services and citizens: the spread of rights” Report presented by Cittadinanzattiva in Rome.

A few examples: unlawful commercial practices on the increase (+7% in the electricity sector, +6% in the telecommunications sector) and aggressive practices (respectively +15%, +13%). Local public services fare no better, with local bodies short of funding, providing services at ever higher costs but of shoddy quality: the claims about erroneous water bills have increased by 15% (40% compared to 25%), and those about high waste disposal rates have gone up by 8% (35% compared to 27%).

Citizens are paying very high costs: up to 300 euros to cancel a land line telephone contract, up to 7 months to get a mortgage, 5 years for a refund from Irpef. (Italian tax body)

In 2011 the telecommunications sector established itself as the leader for the worst services of the year, collecting 22% of the approximately 8600 notifications sent to Pit services. It is followed by energy (17%), bank and financial services (15%) and public administration (13%). Neither do local public services (12%) nor transport (9%) look good; the least claims are about insurance services (5%), postal services (4%) and assets and contracts (3%). The complete dossier is available online: www.cittadinanzattiva.it.

“The enduring economic crisis, as highlighted by the data in this report, is putting at risk the equilibrium between market, democracy and social cohesion on which Europe has been standing since the end of the Second World War”, declared Tina Napoli, the new Cittadinanzattiva director for consumer policies. “From our view point it is clear that consumer rights are taking a step backwards: not only do citizens have to face the crisis on a daily basis, but also for roughly the last year we have noted that they have to defend themselves from an increasingly aggressive behaviour used, not only by private companies, to try to acquire new customers.  Every actor in the market (institutions, companies, consumer associations, individual consumers, watchdogs) shares the responsibility of monitoring the situation to ensure that the “crisis” does not become an excuse to impose unscrupulous commercial practices but rather an opportunity to call into question again those market models and behaviours that have reached the end of the line, thus contributing to the building of trust, clearly declining the concept of “sustainability”, and, as also expected by Europe, focusing on the involvement of the citizens”.

 

SPREAD AND INADEQUATE SERVICES ACCORDING TO SECTOR

SERVICES

% reported  2011

% reported  2010

SPREAD of rights

TELECOMMUNICATIONS

22%

21%

worse

ENERGY

17%

16%

worse

BANKS AND FINANCE COMPANIES

15%

16%

better

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

13%

12%

worse

LOCAL PUBLIC SERVICES

12%

17%

better

TRANSPORT

9%

10%

better

INSURANCE SERVICES

5%

3%

worse

POSTAL SERVICES

4%

4%

same

ASSETS AND CONTRACTS

3%

1%

worse

Source: Cittadinanzattiva, XII Report PiT Services

Telecommunications (22%, +1% sul 2010)

Also in 2011 this sector established itself for citizens as being the worst service. In particular the most often reported poorly working services are in the land line telephone sector collecting a huge 62% of complaints (compared to 48% in 2010). Citizens have particular difficulty in cancelling a contract (25%) and changing telephone company (24%). The total costs that the user must pay to change to a new telephone company, in defiance of the Bersani law, vary between 50 and 100 euros, peaking at 300 euros. It is clear in this sector, more than in others, how much the economic recession induces companies to adopt aggressive commercial practices to get contracts signed and at the same time to hang onto customers acquired by methods only just within the law and “profiting illicitly” where possible in the bill: claims about erroneous amounts in the bill is the most common one made by citizens (34% in 2010 moving up to 45%). There are the same problems in the mobile phone sector (18%, -4%), where the main criticisms are made about changing the phone company (23%), about unclear bills (21%) and about cancelling contracts (16%, +8% compared to 2010). The internet sector follows (14% in the telecommunications section), particularly conditioned by the poor ADSL coverage (38%, +8%), and online fraud, which was practically inexistent as a form of complaint in 2010 and has soared to 25% in the last year. There are also complaints about the extortion of private data through fraudulent web sites and payment demands for downloading apparently free programmes.  Television services collect 6% of reported claims (-4%) where it is the poor quality offered by pay tv and digital terrestrial tv that is ill considered.

 Energy (17%, +1%)

Energy is in second place on the list of most critical services for citizens (last year it was in third place, preceded by bank and financial services). Electricity (55%, -13% in 2010) and gas (45%, +13%) are two interesting sectors. Electricity: The bill remains the most criticized aspect (40%, +2%), with errors in the balance of the arrears, unclear entries of charges and erroneous billing. However there are also problems with changing the supplier (17%), stoppage of the service (12%), and the high rates (10%). Gas: The number of complaints have been constantly on the increase over the last two years or more. The main problems concern the bill (41%), with errors in the balance of the arrears, missing or erroneous billing, and unclear entries of charges. These are followed by problems regarding changing the supplier (21%), for connection/transfer of contracts and replacement (14%) and for stoppage of the service (9%).

Banks and financial companies (15%, -1%)

They have gone down by one place on the list of inadequate services compared to 2010. The economic crisis plays a negative role: while fewer complaints about mortgages are reported (31%, -14% compared to 2010) which the banks are ever more unwilling to give and citizens are ever less able to afford, there is an increase in the claims about consumer credit (30%, +7%). Indeed some financial companies permit this even without the minimum security, encouraging the over-indebtedness of consumers. Mortgages: citizens, in the grip of economic difficulties, report having trouble in re-negotiation (26%), in settlements (21%) in getting a mortgage approved for which it may take 5 to 7 months, in its portability (13%) and in paying it off in advance (13%), as well as high taxes (8%) and collateral expenses (3%). 16% ask for clarifications and information about the possibility of accessing anti-crisis measures. Consumer credit: the main criticalities concern being inserted in the credit blacklist (47%), over-indebtedness (24%), unclear explanations of the conditions (19%) and high taxes (10%).

Complaints about current accounts follow (23%); particularly regarding the difficulty to close an account (26%), maximum overdraft fees (21%), and card cloning (14%).

Public administration (13%, +1%)

It comes in at fourth place on the list of the worst services: Inland Revenue (30%), administrative practices (20%), fines (19%), welfare (12%), education (9%), the environment (8%) are the sectors most often reported.

Inland Revenue: albeit on the decrease compared to last year (-5%), it is the item which has the most negative effect in the sector of administrative practices. In the eye of the storm the lack of clarity and transparency in tax invoice statements (40%), the RAI tv license fee (27%), considered too onerous, and the Irpef reimbursements (12%) for which citizens may have to wait up to 5 years.

Complaints about administrative practices have in common delays and the scant transparency in procedures. In particular complaints are made about the issuing/renewal of documents (37%), about requests for citizenship/residence permits (24%), about accessing documents (21%) and about changing residence (10%, +5%).

Citizens report fines which they consider to be irregular. In 85% of cases they have requested clarifications about the procedures to contest them and in 15% about the regularity of the instruments with which they are imposed.

Local public services (12%, -5%)

Even if they are decreasing, the complaints about local public services stand out for their strongly non homogeneous nature in different sectors: there is an increase in the complaints about water (39%, +11%), and about local public transport (25%, +12%), while those about waste collection have decreased (15%, -15%); this is followed by complaints about local taxation and council housing (both 6%), the urban road system (4%), car parks (3%), crèches and taxis (1%). Water: mistakes in billing (40%) and high rates (19%) are the most frequent complaints. And even if since 2010 there have been less complaints reported about the lack of the availability of drinking water (5% compared to 12%), there are more cases of disrupted services (18% compared to 13%). Water really is a mirror: of a country where one pays too much for inadequate services. Local public transport: one citizen in four complains about inadequate services in this sector, in particular about the irregularity (34%) and number (28%) of the routes, the level of hygiene on board (14%), the state of the bus/tram stops (13%), customer service (6%) and architectural barriers (5%). Pausing at the first two areas, regularity of the transport, and number of the routes, that between them collect 60% of the complaints about local public transport, it is clear that citizens can no longer bear what is a constantly inefficient service in our towns: fuel costs should make us leave our cars at home, but we are forced to use them because our public transport system seems to be that of the developing countries. Waste collection: even if this sector has had just half of the complaints reported in 2010 (15% compared to 30%), the principle still counts, that as for water, one pays too much for a poor quality service: indeed citizens protest about the high rates (35%) which can be broken down into the absence of differentiated collection (20%) and the poor quality of the same (17% report the terrible condition of the waste bins and 14% report the irregular service of waste collection).

 Transport (9%, -1%)

In this sector, most complaints are reported about air transport (44%) and rail transport (41%), followed by transport by sea (11%).

Delays head the list of complaints in this sector and cover 26% in air transport and 29% in rail transport. Other air transport deficiencies follow: flight cancellations (19%), loss of baggage (18%), overbooking (16%), and reimbursements (13%). Regarding rail transport, after delays, complaints are about the lack of service (21%), the increase of rates (18%), the difficulty in getting reimbursements (16%), the level of hygiene on trains (8%).

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