EnergyAustralia abolishes paper billing fees

In a huge win for print and paper lobby group Two Sides and its Keep Me Posted campaign EnergyAustralia is scrapping paper bill fees and over the counter payment at Australia Post fees for all of their customers, the first Australian company to do so independently.

Keep Me Posted, the two-year campaign against paper billing fees is now encouraging a total ban on all paper bill fees, urging companies to not wait for the legislation to change to do the right thing and scrap fees on paper communications.

Kellie Northwood, executive director of Keep Me Posted says, “At Keep Me Posted, we are thrilled by EnergyAustralia’s announcement, it is terrific news for Australian consumers. For the last 20 months, we have encouraged our supporters to write to their service providers to let them know how the fees impact them. EnergyAustralia has listened to its customers and is showing leadership in tackling a growing issue for Australian consumers.

“NSW already has legislation around paper billing. Origin has an agreement with the government to not charge paper fees. SA has an agreement with Origin as well, but it is not legislation and we are hoping other companies will fall in line. EnergyAustralia is the first company to make the move as a corporate citizen, they have done it independently rather than as part of a government agreement and we at Keep Me Posted applaud the decision.”

Kim Clarke, chief customer officer at EnergyAustralia says “We have had a lot of feedback from customers and the message is clear – people do not like these fees. They were introduced to avoid passing on the cost of services many customers do not use, but circumstances have changed. Over the past year retail energy prices have increased up to 20 per cent in some states and today, more than ever, every dollar matters for families. So, we have listened and are getting rid of charges for paper bills and over-the-counter fees.”

Currently banks, telcos and energy providers may charge customers fees between $1.50 to $2.75 per bill, as a way to persuade customers to choose digital billing. According to Keep Me Posted, a paper bill costs businesses between $0.88 to $1.02 to produce.

The controversial fees were introduced under the guise of the businesses being environmentally friendly, aiming to get customers onto electronic bills, but the reality was they were an exercise in cost cutting. Transactional printers suffered as the large swathes of their work disappeared.

[Related: Treasury examines paper fees ban]

Northwood says, “Any legislative reform is still 18 months away. States can make moves with energy companies more quickly but telcos are still covered by the federal government. We would rather that companies take the initiative, that is the quickest way rather than have consumers pay fees for 18 months or up to two years. We want the industry to do the right thing.”

Treasury also examined a paper fees ban last year, with representatives consulting with the campaign group. The results are still yet to come out, but the estimated annual cost of a ban would be between $80m and $93m for the 16 Australian businesses with the largest customer base, compared to the cost of abolishing ATM fees for the four banks being $500m a year.

Northwood says, “We expect that Treasury will present a report in April. We are still taking submissions and Treasury are still accepting some but the majority are in. Treasury should be reviewing them in March, and we will probably hear from them after then.

“Keep Me Posted is now working at a state government level, they can legislate quicker and it also places more pressure on Treasury to take action.”

In a submission to the Treasury consultation paper, the Consumer Action Law Centre also said the value of an individual paper billing fee may appear insignificant, but can aggregate and end up resulting in a price rise for marginalised groups.

Northwood says, “EnergyAustralia sets a positive precedent and proves that consumer voices matter. The discontent is growing, the pressure from the community and consumer groups ramping up, we strongly urge other companies to put their customers first and axe paper fees in the days and weeks to come.”

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