European Commission survey shows users are satisfied with most utility services

A European Commission survey shows that utility consumers are satisfied with most essential services, although 40% of them still feel prices are too high.

Feb. 5, 2003 -- A European Commission survey shows that utility consumers are satisfied with most essential services, although 40% of them still feel prices are too high.

Most European consumers are satisfied with the quality of essential services such as post, telecommunications, gas, electricity and water, though levels of satisfaction vary according to the service.

Postal services and electricity achieved the highest ratings for consumer satisfaction, transport services the lowest. Levels of satisfaction have remained relatively stable since 2000.

These are the results of a Eurobarometer survey organized by the European Commission as part of its annual evaluation report on network industries providing services of general economic interest. The report also shows that the price of telecommunications is continuing its long-term fall, that gas prices started to fall in 2002, after rising since 1996, and that electricity prices were stable.

Providers of essential services are continuing to meet or exceed their universal service obligations and access to services at affordable prices for the less well off is improving. Prices of road and rail transport rose faster than inflation. Former monopoly operators retain a large market share in all essential services in nearly all Member States.

EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said: "Consumers must have access to high quality essential services at fair and transparent prices and under fair contract conditions. These services are a key component of our quality of life in Europe. The high levels of satisfaction are reassuring, but the survey also highlights areas for further improvement. The Commission's Green Paper on services of general interest will identify areas for further action."

Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein added: "The report is encouraging. Both the survey and the statistical analysis show that the EU's double headed policy - liberalisation within the Internal Market combined with an uncompromising commitment to maintaining universal services - is delivering results. But we need to give users both commercial and domestic even better quality and even better value for money. That will help Europe reach its goal of becoming the most competitive economy in the world by 2010."

The report and the Eurobarometer survey

The European Commission's annual report on the evolution of the performance of network industries providing services of general interest was first produced in December 2001 (see IP/01/1778). The latest report applies a methodology adopted by the Commission in June 2002 (see IP/02/879). It is an annex to the Commission's report" on the functioning of product and capital markets (see IP/02/1969), which has been produced annually since a request from the Cardiff European Council in 1998.

The Eurobarometer survey of consumers' opinions forms the first part of the report. The second part presents a number of indicators on the performance of the industries concerned.

Key findings of the Eurobarometer survey

* EU consumers have a relatively easy access to services of general interest: four services out of the eight services studied (water supply, postal services, electricity supply, fixed telephone services) are easy to access for more than 85% of EU consumers. 75% of EU consumers report having easy access to mobile telephony.

* The services with the highest level of overall satisfaction are postal services (74%), electricity supply services (73%), fixed telephone services and water supply services (both 71%). The services with the lowest levels of overall satisfaction are urban transport (59%) and inter-city rail services (52%).

* The services with the highest overall percentage of consumers expressing dissatisfaction are inter-city rail services (25%), urban transport and mobile telephone services (both 23%) as well as fixed telephone services (22%). Postal services and gas supply services achieved the lowest rate of expressions of dissatisfaction (16%).

* Consumers are in general satisfied with the quality of the services. 81% expressed satisfaction with the level of quality. High levels of satisfaction were also recorded for the information provided (71%) and customer service (67%) while the general satisfaction with contracts was a little lower (63%).

* Price is the feature which causes most dissatisfaction among EU consumers. On average, for the eight services considered, 52% of consumers consider that prices are fair and 40% think that they are not. The percentage of consumers considering prices not fair ranges from 27% in postal services to 42% in urban transports, 45% in inter-city rail transports and fixed telephone services and even 49% in mobile telephone services. The latter, with inter-city rail transports, are the two services for which the dissatisfaction rate with regard to price fairness is higher than the satisfaction rate.

* The survey shows quite large differences in the general satisfaction across countries. The highest level of satisfaction was recorded in Luxembourg, the UK and Denmark where the global satisfaction were respectively 81, 78 and 76 percent. The lowest levels of global satisfaction are recorded in Germany, Spain and Italy where respectively 65, 63 and 56 percent of the consumers were satisfied in general. In five EU Member States 20% or more of consumers expressed general dissatisfaction with their services of general interest: Germany, Greece (both 20%), France (21%), Spain (23%) and Italy (31%).In the EU in general 67% of consumers are satisfied, while 20% are not.

* The comparison of these results with a similar survey from 2000 (Eurobarometer 53) shows a broad stability in the evolution of the overall satisfaction rate towards services of general interest. Exceptions are mobile telephony where higher satisfaction is reported now (64% in 2002 against 60% in 2000) and inter-city rail services where dissatisfaction is greater now (53% of global satisfaction in 2002 against 56% in 2000).

Key findings of the evaluation

The main conclusions from the second part of the report, which analyses the performance of industries supplying services of general economic interest, are:

* Telecommunication prices continued to fall in 2002 but at a lower pace than in the previous years. Since 1996, prices of telecommunications services have decreased by more than 17%. Gas prices slightly decreased in 2002 but, when compared to 1996 levels, they have grown at a higher rate than the general price index. Prices for postal services have risen in line with inflation while relative prices for electricity have risen more slowly than inflation. The price of electricity in real terms has decreased by 9% since 1996.

* The affordability of telecommunication services, electricity and gas have all improved since the mid-nineties. The analysis finds telecommunication most affordable for low-income consumers in Denmark, The Netherlands and Germany and least affordable in Portugal, Ireland and Spain. However, in the case of Spain, as well as in other Member States, special tariffs for low intensity consumers with low income have increased affordability of the service significantly.

* Few indicators on the quality of the services are currently available. The report does however deliver evidence of an improvement in postal services. 93.9% of all mail is now delivered within 3 days and 98.9% within 5 days as opposed to 69.5% and 93% in the mid-nineties.

Further information

More information about the results of the Eurobarometer survey can be found at:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/dgs/health_consumer/library/surveys/index_en.html

For more information about reports on the functioning of goods, service and capital markets see:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/internal_market/en/update/economicreform/index.htm


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