Paying for the bills you have to pay is wrong, says Lord

6th December 2013
Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament
Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

I’ve had my feet firmly in England this week, after my recent tour of the Celtic nations. This week I had a very informative meeting with the Church of England itself! Details of the campaign are going out to all diocesan workers, so they have information to pass on when they are dealing with the vulnerable people they give comfort and help to every day.

 The other major event has been a feisty debate in the House of Lords, with thanks to Baroness Oppenheimer-Barnes for raising it. Several noble Lords and Ladies spoke up about how some of the most vulnerable are penalised for not being able to access financial transactions via the internet – and not only had a good grasp of the issue and the statistics, but in some cases had their own anecdotal evidence.

 Lord Lipsey summed up what a lot of people feel about the topic – “It is bad enough having to pay bills; it is worse having to pay for the bills you have to pay”, he told the House. He had already complained to Ofcom having been informed by BT that he would have to pay for his bills in future, which “seemed and still seems wrong” he explained. Ofcom replied that providers were entitled to make commercial decisions on the methods through which they provide bills and whether they impose charges to do so, which of course is what we are opposing.

 We’ve been in touch with Ofcom ourselves. They told us that so far no-one has made any complaint about the issue – I hope they heard Lord Lipsey complaining in no uncertain terms!

 Baroness Maddock, who supports the cause said being paperless may be cheaper and more profitable for the companies – but is it fair to make the most disadvantaged in society pay a premium for the services and goods that they require, she asked.

 Yes, you have to take into account the costs of producing a paper statement and sending it out, but I know from my direct marketing work that for large companies that cost can be kept to something around 20p. At £1.50 - sometimes more - I think what is being charged is out of all proportion to the actual cost of production.

 As Baroness Hayter remarked - it must be for the Government, an ombudsman or a regulator to stand in the consumer's shoes and sort out the problem. Here, here.

Judith Donovan

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament