Utility charges are a regular expense many find challenging to manage. Being charged a fee to receive such bills in the mail borders on arrogance. But hard copy charges could soon be a thing of the past.
The trend towards receiving all bills in digital format and paying them online almost rules out the need for human interaction, and hence the staff required to manage face-to-face transactions.
But there are many who live in remote areas without internet access (1.3 million Australian households don’t have internet access), can’t afford internet access, don’t have the technology to facilitate such transactions, don’t have the skills to manage digital bills or who simply prefer the security and personal touch of physical transactions.
Utilities, including power companies, gas suppliers, telcos and financial institutions have long been pushing for purely digital operations and penalising anyone who still choosing to receive a hard copy bill. It obviously reduces running costs for these corporations. But it also comes at a cost to the 2.5 million Australian households that could buckle under the weight of these extra fees which, while only a few dollars per bill, can add up over the course of a year.
With this in mind, State and Federal governments have asked the Commonwealth Treasury to investigate ways of potentially restricting paper bill fees.
Some believe they should be banned altogether.
“Whilst we can be caught on the digital wave and think it’s a great thing that everything is now there and available electronically, we need to think through the implications,” said Martin North, from research firm Digital Finance Analytics.
“I think the idea of letting industry fight it out with consumers is a poor option, simply because [I think] it’s an unequal battle.”
The Consumer Action Law Centre is also calling for an outright ban on hard copy bill and statement fees, saying that those affected “are often our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens”, and “often those least able to afford it are paying more for services”.
State and Federal MPs are considering all options and will convene in the next few months.
Do you think it’s fair to be charged for hard copy bill? Do you still receive your ills in the mail – by choice or necessity?