Vulnerable citizens, a key stakeholder in the Postal User Needs study

European postal services follow the Postal Services Directive (97/67/EC) regulatory framework under the priorities of the European Commission DG Grow.  Currently, the Commission is in the process of reviewing the Postal Directive and has assigned several studies including the “User Needs in the Postal Sector and Evaluation of the Regulatory Framework” study conducted by WIK consult.  The main objective of this independent and comprehensive study is to identify the needs of both business and private postal users given the shift from paper-based to electronic communications.

When researching the future needs of postal users, the report took into account the rights of vulnerable groups which may be directly impacted by changes in the current legislation and are seen to be at risk of “digital exclusion” despite progress in digitisation and e-substitution.  The study further defines the “vulnerable groups” to include users of postal services to be:

  • Living in remote and rural areas
  • Low income
  • Lack of digital skills (private and business consumers)
  • Reduced mobility (with disabilities)

These translates to 97 million of all citizens live in rural areas (Eurostat 2017) across the EU-28 with Estonia, Ireland, Slovenia, and Romania having more than 50 % of inhabitants live in rural areas.  They have access to postal services but may not have the same access to the internet as inhabitants living in urban areas.

A further 118 million people are at risk of poverty or social exclusion (Eurostat 2016) the greatest risk resulting from income poverty.

When it comes to internet access, on average, 87 % of households in the EU have internet access (Eurostat 2018). However, 25 % of individuals using the internet have low overall digital skills according to a Eurostat rating based on selected activities related to internet or software.  Let us not forget, the 45 million citizens (DESI, 2020) who have never used the internet.

The report considers those with reduced mobility to include more than 74 million disabled persons and 105 million over 65 years of age.  A growing number in years to come as Europe’s population age.

The report highlights the varying stages of digital development across Member states depending on broadband expansion, digital skills of individuals and businesses, and public authorities’ readiness to implement e-government applications, access to postal service cannot be rules out.  Over time, with better digital skills, more affordable and ubiquitous broadband connection as well as changes in the EU demography, the number of citizens deemed vulnerable may decrease.  However, we could assume that at least half of Europe’s 448 million citizens being defined as “vulnerable” in this report are at immediate risk of “digital exclusion” if they did not have the choice on how they would like to send and receive important information.

Keep Me Posted EU is pleased to see that the report considers the current and future needs of vulnerable citizens and hopes that future legislations will consider the importance of consumer choice for all citizens on how they wish to send/receive important information, be it digital or through the post.

See also