Press release

Energy: enhanced mechanisms from 2017 to handle complaints and to resolve disputes

Special procedures for double billing, social bonus and compensation made easier, final customer protection reinforced compared to the previous structure

Milan, July 22, 2016

Italian Flag Italian version

From 1st of January 2017 the reform of mechanisms for the increasingly effective handling of consumer-vendor complaints and for the resolution of remaining disputes with operators begins. The new consumer protection system will no longer be structured on two levels like the current system, but on three levels: firstly, the complaint will still be made to the supplier and if  it does not respond or the answer is unsatisfactory, the consumers will  go to the new second level, the compulsory conciliation to resolve the dispute. For more complex cases, there will be a further additional level, in which it will be the Regulatory Authority to decide on unresolved cases. Subsequently, special standardised procedures for some of the most common issues will be activated, with the reinforcement of the role of consumer Associations and a Help Desk (Single Buyer) to support them in their assistance role, also with a new unique web portal for the consumer, where they can send reports and request information. The new procedure (launched in May with the definition of the procedures for compulsory conciliation, now in the  final  stage with approval of the resolutions 383/2016/E/com and 413/2016/R/com and with the subsequent definition of the third level) creates a complete and comprehensive protection system, with the aim of reforming the current architecture of handling complaints and disputes between customers and operators, for greater effectiveness, by simplifying mechanisms to reduce times, costs and improve the quality of responses.

The new mechanisms will be applied to all sectors regulated by the Regulatory Authority, even if the rules approved to date only refer to electricity and gas customers, domestic or other, including prosumers (i.e. those that are producers and consumers of electricity at the same time); subsequent provisions will then be extended to other sectors, consistent with the provisions of law. In detail, the first level of protection will be based on a written complaint submitted by the customer to the company, that will aim to resolve most problems between the consumer and operator. In fact, with the approved regulation interventions the aim is to simplify procedures, reduce response times, optimise and increase the system and the amount of automatic compensation. For example, the vendor must pay the customer 50 euros in the event of both a delayed response to the complaint and or a delayed correction of billing (25 euros for each individual compensation, before it was 20 euros), while the distributor must compensate the vendor with 30 euros in case of delay in providing information (this was 20 euros for the electricity sector, 24.40 euros for the gas sector). Cases have also been simplified, with requests for bill correction moved to the complaints category, increased options for sending written complaints via web or email and the forms and response completeness criteria have been improved. The opportunity for vendors to request technical data to the distributors, even from a telephone request from the customer, has also been introduced.

If the response to the complaint is not satisfactory or even completely absent, customers may access the second level, represented by the Conciliation Service [1] and by the other authorised entities in the ADR list (Alternative Dispute Resolution), which from January is a mandatory condition for any subsequent recourse to the courts. To improve customer awareness on the most suitable choice of resolution tool, vendors must inform their customers about the use of the Conciliation Service and, if necessary, any free access conciliation entities whose procedures it undertakes to participate in, both on their website, in their contracts and in their responses to complaints that have not been resolved. At the second level the 'special procedures' can be activated, a dispute resolution channel that is applicable to a limited number of cases, but very recurrent, characterised by the content of information that has already been stored in special direct access data bases by the consumer Help Desk.
These will concern specific issues: the social bonus (in particular cases of distributors' failure to validate applications already approved by the Municipality, distributors' or vendors' delay or failure to provide the bonus, cases of contesting recovery procedures); cases of double billing following switching; failure to provide automatic compensation; rejected or missing responses from commercial counterparts for complaints submitted on switching back; cases linked to Cmor [2] (errors in billing the incoming sale by the operator, request for billing in absence of the requirements envisaged by the regulation or failure to cancel following payment of the entire debt). Special procedures will enable the eradication of the problem that is the subject of the dispute in a different and more specific way compared to conciliation and will also be valid for making use of the obligatory attempt at conciliation.

Finally, a new third level is expected - currently being defined - which prefigures the Regulatory Authority to intervene upon a party's request to settle certain disputes that have not been resolved during the conciliation. This intervention is not a preliminary condition for an appeal to the court, but it is an alternative to this,  without prejudice to the right to judicial protection even after it. At all levels the importance of the informative role carried out by the Regulatory Authority's free-phone number +39 800 166 659 is confirmed, as well as the role of consumer assistance (front end) carried out by the domestic and not domestic customer Associations in the country.
To reinforce the latter aspect, various support initiatives have been introduced: projects to  consolidate  a network of a qualified Association of help desks, funded with the penalty fund; initiatives related to SME help desks as part of the memorandum of understanding with the Regulatory Authority; training activities; activation of the Help Desk service with the Single Buyer. In particular the latter will be for consultancy support for an identified network of national Association help desks in the more general resolution of issues that the complaint may bring forth, also publishing the most frequently asked questions and the responses provided, to the benefit of all. The Single Buyer will also carry out periodic monitoring of the trends and type of all communications received, with reports on the activities carried out by the Call Centre and Help Desk as well. Each year a Report on complaints and disputes will be published which, along with the information communicated annually by vendors and distributors, will also present results of the customer satisfaction survey specifically on monitoring the completeness of the responses to the complaints handled by consumer Associations' qualified help desks. Some chapters will also be dedicated to the trends of conciliation and the monitoring of reports and special procedures.

[1] With the resolution 209/2016/E/COM of  last May, the Regulatory Authority for energy approved the "Integrated text on extra-judicial resolution procedures for disputes between final customers or users and operators in the sectors regulated by the Authority" (Integrated Text on Conciliation - TICO), to implement the law establishing the Regulatory Authority and the Consumer Code, which defined the procedure for implementing the mandatory attempt at conciliation with the Conciliation Service as an admissibility condition for legal proceedings, as well as identifying alternative procedures that may be attempted, using a declaratory and comprehensive text.
[2] The fee required in the event that the customer is found to be in arrears with regard to a previous vendor.