The NDP has launched a campaign to protest against extra charges many companies levy on customers who receive their monthly bills in the mail rather than choosing online billing.
According to the NDP, in the past two years, more and more companies, especially internet providers, phone companies and banks, are charging fees ranging from a dollar to up to four dollars for paper billing.
"This is a new fee for an old service," said NDP Andrew Cash, speaking at a press conference. "We're calling on the government and its relevant agencies to stop this rip-off, stop those pay-to-pay fees."
Cash said the fees amount to a discriminatory charge against seniors and others on fixed incomes, people in remote or rural areas with poor internet access, small businesses and even people who simply prefer to receive a hard copy of their bills.
He also accused the companies who charge for paper billing of a "cash grab" and profiting from making customers pay for a service that used to be free.
Asked whether the NDP shouldn't be championing paperless billing for environmental reasons, Cash answered, "Absolutely. What we're saying is wouldn't it be better for companies, if they're really serious about paperless bills to offer customers an inducement to go paperless, and that inducement would be to pass on the savings."
Monopolies on services
Janet Gray of the Ottawa chapter of CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, said that in a survey of CARP's members, two-thirds of respondents said they would switch companies in order to avoid having to shell out for a paper copy of their bill. But, she said, many of those companies have monopolies on the services they provide.
It's possible for a senior to make a hardship case to a company. But Gray said the relief is often temporary, seniors may not know how to apply for a break in the fees, and it can be humiliating to argue that a two-dollar fee is unaffordable. The various fees can add up to a hundred dollars a year, which, she said, can be devastating to a senior on a low fixed income. Gray added, "We see this as a discrimination against seniors who choose not to have internet access."
The NDP has started an online petition to demand the end of extra charges for paper bills at stoppaytopayfees.ca. Cash didn't rule out a private member's bill, but pointed out that any legislation or new regulations would have to come from several different ministries and agencies.
The NDP provided a list of companies it says charge for paper bills, pointing out that the list is not exhaustive and that some of these companies charge for paper billing for some services they offer, but not necessarily all.
- Bell Mobility
- Telus Mobility
- Wind Mobile (Ontario)
- TD Canada Trust
- President’s Choice Financial
Bell Mobility, which charges $2 per month for a paper bill, responded to CBC News late Wednesday. Spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis said that "Like other service providers, Bell has moved to online billing in response to customers asking us to reduce our use of paper. Note that Bell was recently ranked as the greenest company in Canada by Newsweek, and the magazine specifically noted the paper savings from online billing as a primary reason for the award."
Bell did not respond to a question about why it doesn't pass on the savings and give a discount to customers who are billed online, rather than impose a charge on customers who receive paper bills.
Wind Mobile also responded late Wednesday about its charge for paper bills.
"Feedback from our 500,000 subscribers across Canada is that they overwhelmingly prefer online billing, which is more convenient and environmentally friendly. We do offer paper billing for those who request it, but that option is only being used by 0.1% of our customer base," it said.