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“How Citizens Abroad Contributed to the Gas Price Collapse”

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Massimiliano Albanese - Photo by iNews24Massimiliano Albanese – Photo by iNews24

At the microphones of iNews24, lawyer Massimiliano Albanese, expert in international cooperation and federal secretary of the Italian Consumers’ Union (UCI).

The high bill weighs on families, businesses and smart workers. In recent months, many traders have been forced to close their businesses, many families are struggling to pay their electricity and gas bills. What is the picture of the UCI’s situation?
“It is an alarming picture. The high bill is the main problem, but it must be said that Italian families are above all victims of a constant loss of purchasing power due to galloping inflation, which according to ISTAT reached 8.9% in September. Over the past year, we have seen a steady upward trend in the prices of consumer goods and services of around 1% per month”;

How does this affect food expenditure?
“The basket inevitably emptied and it was largely dependent on energy costs, not only for gas and electricity for industrial production, but also for fuel and transport. But there is also a general increase in raw materials, especially food. Both for the carbohydrate and vitamin component linked to agricultural production, which suffers from geopolitical instability and the exorbitant costs of fertilizers produced through the use of natural gas. Both for proteins of animal origin, which are clearly impacted by the costs of cereal-based feeds for livestock”;

According to a study by the Smart Work Observatory of the Politecnico di Milano School of Management, due to high bills, those who work from home spend 400 euros more per year. According to the study, however, this saves around 1,000 euros in transport costs.
“As far as smart workers are concerned, the results of the study conducted by the Politecnico di Milano School of Management are very interesting. The average saving that a worker should have expected, carrying out his work at least two days a week from home, should have been around a thousand euros per year. However, with rising energy costs, these savings have been reduced to around 600 euros and this data suggests that the use of so-called agile working may suffer a decline. But the phenomenon was already in decline compared to the figures of the peak season of the pandemic, in particular because the public administration and small and medium-sized enterprises preferred to restore traditional ways of working. On the contrary, it is the big companies that keep the employment rates of smart workers high, having now extensively tested procedures for managing remote activities”;

In economic terms, for whom is smart working most practical?
“On closer examination, on the scale of large numbers, having many PCs, printers, air conditioners, coffee machines and lights switched off in the company, in the face of domestic consumption borne exclusively by the workers, constitutes an economy energy consumption, which can ultimately have a positive effect on the profit and loss accounts of companies, without necessarily harming workers who anyway improve their quality of life and still save something in relation to costs, especially indirect ones , which they would endure under traditional working conditions. In short, a win-win mechanism, as we say in business jargon”;

What reports arrive at the UCI counters?
“In terms of expensive bills, reports and requests for intervention are daily and are spreading like wildfire throughout the national territory. Indeed, the aid provided by the government to deal with the crisis has often proved insufficient. As a result of the reductions applied directly to invoices, it has allowed certain “cunning” operators to circumvent the rules, without being content with their large share of the sector’s exorbitant excess profits, which totaled around 50 billion euros. euros. We therefore had free market distributors who, in flagrant violation of the rules contained in the Aid bis decree of August, failed to apply the reductions and made unilateral changes to the contracts, increasing the prices which would have rather had to stay stuck”;

Talk about inappropriate behavior on the part of distributors.
“In some cases, a selection of customers has even been made, withdrawing from supplies for families in arrears, without taking into account the moratorium which, on the contrary, obliges the operator to pay in several instalments. Very serious behavior to which all consumer associations reacted with strong complaints, forcing the Antitrust to intervene. A few days ago there was talk of an ongoing sanction procedure against some operators and of investigations for other companies in the sector. The free market cannot be a jungle without rules, especially considering that from January 1, 2024, the enhanced protection system will no longer exist and consumers will have to choose which supplier to go to, on the basis of clear information and commercially incorrect behavior”;

How does the UCI help businesses and consumers?
“The Italian Consumers’ Union adopts an innovative philosophy in its activity to protect the category. Not a simple perspective of protection, but a real enhancement, through a constant dialogue with the producers of goods and services. In this context, among the initiatives of which we are most proud there is certainly the one that we promote in collaboration with the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio, with which we signed a memorandum of understanding in June last. The idea is to establish a national certification of the level of consumer protection by the most virtuous companies, by applying a system of rigorous controls on multiple parameters of the production and distribution of goods and services, communication policies and marketing, support and the so-called consumer experience. So we will have a national registry of businesses defined as consumers in love, which consumers can consider more trustworthy and therefore reward with their purchasing choices. Even in the energy sector, this certification could prove to be a very useful tool for families, particularly in the choice of operators in the free market, once the most protective regime is abolished, in just over a year ” ;

What advice do you have for consumers to avoid having to pay their gas and energy bills more than they should?
“First of all, to become aware of one’s rights as consumers and users and of one’s potential as a unitary category. Let’s think about what happened with gas: at the end of August, the price of scabio at the TTF in Amsterdam had reached a peak of 350 euros per Mw/h, but consumption then fell and these days the price fell to around 115 euros. . In fact, in many European countries plans were adopted to contain consumption and families began to follow the advice to reduce waste: consumers were therefore led to act in synergy, precisely as a unitary category and not as individual users, and the effect of their more cautious behavior, reflected in reduced demand, fell like an ax to market speculation, causing the price of gas to collapse. So we have to continue like this, reduce waste and make choices that respect the environment: that’s the best advice we can give”.

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