Despite a promise in last year’s throne speech to eliminate paper bill fees for Canadians, the federal government has yet to take action to cut the charges that annoy many consumers.
Canadians haven’t hesitated to share their frustrations about those fees, something CBC’s Marketplace discovered when the show called on people to nominate the fee they think is Canada’s Dumbest Charge.
More than 700 submissions came in from across the country, with one of the more common complaints being those fees for paper bills and statements.
Newfoundland-based comedian Jason Card finds nothing funny in those charges.
"Do you know I pay $2 a month to TD and to Bell just to get my paper statements?" Card told Marketplace. "Two dollars a month!"
Card led the campaign against paper bill and statement fees for Marketplace’s season premiere, which airs at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on CBC-TV.
"Why would you pay to find out how much you owe?" says Card. "It’s just a cash grab, and it’s unfair."
Government has promised to act
In the October 2013 throne speech, the federal government said it would end paper billing fees. Industry Minister James Moore repeated this promise this summer.
"Increasingly, many Canadians are being charged this new fee by companies from whom they have been receiving service for decades. We do not believe that Canadians should pay more to receive a paper copy of their telephone or wireless bill," Moore said in August.
However, the government has not yet introduced legislation that would prohibit telecommunications companies from charging customers who receive paper bills.
When contacted by Marketplace, Moore's office reiterated its commitment to eliminate paper billing fees from telecommunications companies.
"Canadian consumers have been clear that they expect lower prices and better services from telecommunications providers. That is why our government announced that we will introduce legislation to end this unfair practice," press secretary Jake Enright said in a statement.
The government has confirmed to Marketplace that it will introduce the legislation this fall.
Most banks also charge for sending paper statements, depending on a customer’s monthly service plan. The government has not proposed any action on these charges.
'We are concerned'
Like Card, who complained about the charges to Marketplace, some groups also question the value of paper fees.
In a report by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, released in August, the annual cost to consumers paying for paper bills may be higher than $700 million and the benefits may be few.
"Many service providers cite the environmental benefits of providing online statements, although there is evidence these impacts are mitigated by consumers printing their online statements at home. Moreover ... paper bill fees disproportionately and negatively penalize lower-income consumers, including seniors," the report says.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) held a meeting in July about the paper fees to encourage telecommunications companies to balance costs and environmental concerns against the effect on consumers.
"We are concerned that not all Canadians have a reasonable choice when it comes to paper bill fees for communications services," CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said in a statement.
"We are challenging telecommunications and broadcasting distribution companies to come up with a comprehensive approach that will enable Canadians to make informed decisions. We are prepared to explore regulatory options if the industry fails to find an appropriate approach."
Fee keeps costs down
Maura Drew-Lytle, director of media relations and communications for the Canadian Bankers Association, says the fee is an important way for consumers and banks to keep costs down.
"[The banks] try to keep the cost low for everybody. And they try and have people pay for the services that they use, so you don't have to pay for the services that you don't use," she told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson. "Again, it’s only to keep the costs down."
President’s Choice Financial was the first to start charging for paper statements in 2003; most banks followed suit in 2012 and 2013.
Telecommunications companies phased in the practice between 2009 and 2011.
The five finalists for Canada’s Dumbest Charge will be announced in tonight’s Marketplace season premiere.
After the broadcast, viewers can vote online for the fee that they think is the country’s worst.
Watch Marketplace’s season premiere, Canada’s Dumbest Charge, Friday at 8 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador). After you watch the show, vote for the fee that you think should get the dubious honour at the Marketplace website.