Thursday, August 28, 2014

We Pay More In Canada Than $500M In Fees A Year For Paper Bills

Canadians are probably paying more than half a billion dollars a year to receive printed bills and bank statements by mail, according to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. | David Sacks via Getty Images
Canadians are probably paying more than half a billion dollars a year to receive printed bills and bank statements by mail, suggests a report released Wednesday by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

The consumer research organization polled more than 2,000 Canadians and found about three quarters of the respondents objected to being charged fees for paper copies of their bills and balances.

One in three said they were uncomfortable with making the switch to e-billing or online banking.

About 43 per cent said they could recall being notified by at least one company that they would have to pay to continue receiving bills or bank balances by mail, and just over half of those survey respondents said they accepted the charge.

While there are no official numbers disclosed by the banking and telecommunications industries stating how much money is being paid annually for paper bills and balances, PIAC estimates the total is "conservatively" between $495 million and $734 million, plus taxes.

As much as $102 million in fees are being paid by low-income Canadians and seniors who don't have Internet access at home or don't use computers, suggests the report, which was funded in part by Industry Canada.

"We tried to be on the conservative side of estimating both the amount being paid — like the number of accounts the average person might have — and the number of people who either don't have access to the Internet or have access to the Internet but prefer to get a paper bill," said PIAC executive director John Lawford, who added that he'd love for companies to reveal exactly how much they collect for paper bills.

"They don't want to release it because it's supposedly competitively sensitive, which I don't really think it is ... and then secondly I think it's embarrassing."

PIAC, which began working on its research more than a year ago, was pleased when the federal government pledged to ban the practice of charging for paper bills, first in its throne speech last October and then again this February in releasing its budget.

"We were pleasantly surprised ... and it was gratifying to see a consumer issue be stated as a political priority," Lawford said.

"And they were very clear about eliminating these fees."

On Thursday, the country's big telecommunications companies are set to meet with the CRTC about the issue and an agenda suggests there could be a new agreement reached by the end of the day, with a media event to follow.

Lawford said he's not feeling overly optimistic.

"I have concerns that the result that's possible is not necessarily going to lead to an elimination of the fees, maybe a reduction of them, and maybe a waiving of them for certain groups," he said.

The telephone survey of 2,005 Canadians organized for the report was conducted in August and September of last year and is considered accurate within 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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