June 28, 2012 – CARP has received many calls of concern from our members about the new fees for paper bills and statements from a variety of service providers. Internet, phone, and/or utility service providers and some banks have recently started to charge their customers $2.00 per mailed paper bill or statement in an attempt to encourage customers to switch to online billing. These providers, such as Bell Canada, state that the reasons for this fee include efforts to save paper resources and energy, reduce clutter, and increase the management of bills and security of mail.
Despite these reasons, our members have other concerns over these changes, which include the following:
- Some seniors lack computer literacy skills and/or do not have access to a computer and internet, making it difficult or impossible to switch to paperless billing.
- Low income and fixed income seniors already face financial hardship and are most likely to be without computer access, placing a greater burden on them.
- The $2 per bill can add up for low income seniors who already face financial challenges. Several bills per month can add up to $10 dollar or more, on top of the bill itself.
- Fees may be temporarily waived under “hardship” circumstances when a complaint is made, but not all seniors will know to complain of hardship and many may not be able make a formal complaint due to language barriers.
One of the major service providers that CARP members noted in calls to CARP were about Bell Canada. CARP sent a letter to Bell expressing the concerns of our members, and an Executive Consultant from Bell’s Executive Office contacted our office to further discuss our letter. Through the conversation, CARP learned the following:
- As of June 1st 2012, existing customers receiving internet services are charged $2 per paper bill, where as those with only land line and no Internet are exempt from the fee.
- All new customers, regardless of the types of service they will receive, will be charged the fee.
- It is most likely that eventually all customers, regardless of years of service with Bell and type of package/service received, will be charged the $2 fee. Bell said that the date is unknown.
- Bell is currently giving a one-time $6 credit as “goodwill” to individuals who complain and express hardship due to the $2 charge. But no permanent exemption will be made.
As our world is becoming more and more digitized, CARP recognizes that it is likely that paperless bills and statements will become a standard. However, it is unfortunate that these sweeping changes were made without considering those who are less well off or still disconnected from the internet. As a result, these individuals are penalized unfairly and forced to pay to receive their bills.
CARP is concerned that these fees will add up for low income seniors and disadvantage those without internet access. While it may be worth asking every bill provider for exemptions, it is not the best solution. Alternatives to these fees should be considered for vulnerable individuals to minimize unfair burden. Several service providers have already implemented similar fees for paper bills and statements. CARP will be calling on each of them to reverse the charges or make better provision for those who can’t afford the change.