EU consumers have once again expressed their dissatisfaction with the performance of some key services markets, according to the Commission’s 2012 Consumer Markets Scoreboard published on Dec. 7th. Banking, telecom and energy services score particularly low. Markets for investment products, mortgages and real estate services stay at rock bottom for the third year in a row. Goods markets appear to do better in living up to customers’ expectations, in spite of poor results scored by the automotive, clothing and meat markets.
Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner Tonio Borg said: “Consumer expenditure accounts for 56% of overall European GDP. Markets where consumers are confused, misled, find it hard to switch or have little choice will be less competitive, at a cost to consumers and the economy as a whole. The Scoreboard remains an EU-wide indicator of consumers conditions in the Single Market and I call on national authorities and businesses stakeholders to keep tabs on underperforming markets and take action to improve the situation.”
The Scoreboard is an annual report that ranks the performance of 51 consumer markets based on consumers’ trust in business, comparability of offers, overall satisfaction and the incidence of complaints and problems. Consumer choice, switching of tariffs/providers and price differences between countries are also monitored. This edition includes, for the first time, complaints data collected according to the harmonised methodology set out in the 2010 Commission Recommendation. The Scoreboard market ranking is a valuable tool for national authorities, consumer organisations and business stakeholders. They use it to identify underperforming markets, to address problems and restore consumer confidence with better enforcement of consumer protection rules, public awareness activities and self-regulatory initiatives.
Improving consumer conditions in the Single Market can make a significant contribution to stimulating economic growth. Data from this Scoreboard edition have fed into the annual report on the integration of the Single Market, accompanying the 2013 Annual Growth Survey.
Key findings of the latest Consumer Markets Scoreboard 2012
· Banking services remain the worst performing group of markets from a consumer perspective. Consumers struggle to compare the different fees and conditions offered and find it difficult to choose the best deal, or to subsequently switch providers.
· Telecom markets score low as well. While the number of problems has dropped considerably compared with 2011, it still remains the highest of all market groups. At the same time, the markets for TV subscriptions and internet provision register the highest increase in score compared with 2011. This is due in particular to positive developments in some EU12 countries and could be linked to an increasing bundling of offers (combining telephone, TV and internet).
· Energy markets have particularly poor scores on choice, comparability and switching suppliers and tariffs, suggesting that consumers are not in a position to make full use of the opportunities created by market liberalisation.
· The market for second-hand cars ranks at the bottom of goods markets for the third consecutive year, with the lowest scores on trust, comparability and highest incidence of problems.
· The largest decrease in scores were registered by postal services and public transport. This may reflect the cut in budgets due to austerity policies, since both markets depend on public funding in many Member States. In addition, the market for vehicle fuels has seen significant deterioration in its score for a second year in a row.
· Complaint centres from around a third of Member States have started to submit harmonised complaints data to the Commission. While the data is still scarce, it already gives an initial picture of consumer complaints patterns in different markets.
· Markets are assessed differently by different socio-demographic groups. Further research is needed to understand why.
· The Commission will launch two in-depth studies. The first study will focus on the market of second-hand cars. It will review the regulatory environment in Member States, assess dealers’ practices and identify main problems and complaints reported by consumers. The second study will analyse the issue of consumer vulnerability, to develop a methodology for studying the mechanisms of vulnerability across different consumer markets and identifying effective policy responses. This also responds to the recent call from the European Parliament to strengthen the right of vulnerable consumers.
· Studies on consumer credit and vehicle fuels – launched as a follow-up to last year's Scoreboard (see IP/11/1221) – are currently on-going. Studies on the markets for meat and Internet service provision – launched as a follow-up to the 2010 Scoreboard (see IP/10/1369) – have just been finalised and will be published shortly.
· The Commission is currently working on a legislative initiative on bank accounts, which includes rules to grant all EU consumers access to a basic payment account, ensuring that bank account fees are transparent and comparable and making switching bank accounts easier.
· The Commission promotes best practices with regards to transparency in EU retail energy markets to make it easier for customers to compare and switch to the cheapest energy suppliers.
· The Commission will continue working with national complaint centres on the implementation of the complaints Recommendation, which will enable future Scoreboards to include fully comparable complaints data across the EU.