Utility phones ring too often in a vacuum, says ’60 million consumers’

Céline Géraud, with AFP
modified to

8:19 p.m., January 26, 2023

At what age can I retire? How do I get a Vitale card? Often, public services cannot be reached by telephone by users seeking information but with poor internet skills, the magazine denounced on Thursday 60 million consumers. Calls ringing in the void, imprecise answers… Obtaining information or having procedures explained too often resembles an obstacle course for users who are cold with the web, according to a survey carried out by the publication with the Defender Rights.

A problem of access to public services

While the dematerialization of public services is accelerating, this problem of access is all the more glaring as 15% of French people do not have an internet connection at home and 28% do not consider themselves capable of carry out an administrative procedure online – even among young people, they point out. “Unfortunately, people who are not comfortable with the internet have a lot of difficulty accessing even information on their rights,” laments journalist Lionel Maugain, co-author of the article, to AFP. investigation conducted with the Defender of Rights, citing in particular the elderly, precarious or foreigners.

In this context, 1,532 calls were made, between September 26 and November 10, 2022, by callers representing three types of users (one person without internet, another with internet but with poor command of French, an elderly mature with internet), as well as by a “lambda” caller to check for possible differences in treatment.

These important gaps that remain

Admittedly, some progress has been made since a previous survey conducted in 2016: calls are no longer overcharged, cordiality is generally the order of the day and there is no longer any notable discrimination linked to the origin of users. But important shortcomings remain. The dunce cap goes to the Health Insurance. Out of 302 calls made to find out about the formalities for obtaining or renewing a vital card, 72% were unsuccessful (three unsuccessful attempts each with a five-minute wait). Only 22% of successful calls received “an acceptable response”, and less than 5% “accurate responses”.

At the Family Allowance Fund (CAF), where 54% of the 408 calls had no one on the line, when it picks up, the answers are insufficient or refer to… the internet. Only a minority of agents offer an appointment at the counter or the sending of a paper file to the home. “The solutions exist but they are very rarely offered, which plunges users into disarray and can go as far as the renunciation of their rights”, notes Lionel Maugain.

Explosion of telephone solicitations from the Covid

CAF and Health Insurance say they are facing an explosion of telephone solicitations since the health crisis. CAF tells AFP that they have increased by more than 30% between 2019 and 2021, and reached more than 42 million in 2022. The workforce has been reinforced, but “one-off computer malfunctions” may have complicated the telephone answer “some days,” she said.

It also ensures that it offers support adapted to people who are less comfortable with the internet, such as sending an SMS rather than an email. In the magazine, Health Insurance cites a number of calls more than doubled since the fall of 2019, to 3.2 million per month, and recruitment difficulties.

The proposals of “60 million consumers”

Pôle Emploi is doing a little better: 84% of calls were successful, with however not always satisfactory or imprecise answers. As for the Pension Insurance Fund, 72% of the phone calls were successful but once again, the answers on the possible retirement age, before the reform, were not relevant in the vast majority of cases. “When you can’t get an answer, in fact at that moment you give up, this is called non-recourse”, explained the Defender of Rights, Claire Hédon, at the microphone of RMC.

Like her, 60 million consumers calls for a law imposing several modes of access to public services as well as the establishment of a local counter bringing together a representative of each organization. They also require hard copy submission for any rights notification. “The administration must adapt to the user and not the other way around”, insists Lionel Maugain. Because “even if we have the internet, we can have administrative problems and find ourselves in a galaxy of misunderstanding”.

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Utility phones ring too often in a vacuum, says ’60 million consumers’

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