Support grows for push to keep paper bills free of charge

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CHARITIES and consumer groups are calling on banks, utility firms and mobile phone companies to stop penalising customers who want to receive paper bills and statements rather than online versions.

They say attempts to persuade people to move to digital billing risks disadvantaging not only elderly or disabled people, but many others who prefer not to deal with their finances online.

Mike Crockart has tabled a motion at Westminster. Picture: Comp

Mike Crockart has tabled a motion at Westminster. Picture: Comp

The “Keep Me Posted” campaign claims that paper statements are increasingly being withdrawn without consumer approval.

Campaign chair Judith Donovan, on a visit to Edinburgh, said the aim was to ensure customers could carry on receiving paper bills without being charged.

She said: “We are not anti-digital, we are pro-choice. A lot of people prefer to receive paper bills. We are saying the big companies, the banks, electricity companies and mobile phone companies, should be a bit fairer to these consumers and say ‘If you want your bills and statements on paper, we will let you do that and we won’t charge you’.

“Not all customers are ready, willing or even able to communicate with companies solely through digital means.”

The campaign acknowledges that digital communications are a useful and convenient tool for many consumers. But it wants companies to pledge not to penalise people for opting for paper bills or move them to online accounting without their express agreement.

Research commissioned by Keep Me Posted found that in Scotland, 21 per cent of people deal with bills only by post – the UK’s highest percentage. It also found that 77 per cent of Scots consider it unreasonable to be charged for paper statements from service providers and 26 per cent would access their bank statements only by post if given the choice.

The campaign also said around 15 per cent of Scots – 640,000 people – had never used the internet and quoted a survey which found up to 30 per cent lacked the skills to browse online, use search engines and complete forms.

Ms Donovan said that without paper statements, customers were more likely to miss payments and less likely to have an overall view on their finances. And she said paper bills were often required as proof of identity, but many organisations did not regard a print-out of an online statement as an official document and a request for a one-off paper bill could incur a charge of as much as £9.

Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart has tabled a motion at Westminster backing the Keep Me Posted calls. He said: “Any drive to move services online must be aware of the fact there are many people for whom technology is a barrier. As well as people who do not feel comfortable dealing with finances online, there are lots of people whose broadband is not good enough for such tasks.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com