Govt hands businesses paper fees ultimatum

The Real Media Collective and its Keep Me Posted campaign against paper fees for bills is calling a win, as ministers in the Consumer Affairs Forum have called for businesses to stop charging vulnerable customers for printed statements.

The government has given companies a 12 month period to increase subscriptions to their paper fees exemption programmes, with the warning that it will consider a complete ban on the fees if they fail to do so. The decision was made after considering the Collective’s Decision Regulation Impact Statement.

The committee said it had the expectation that its approach will mitigate consumer harm for vulnerable and disadvantaged customers while minimising regulatory costs for businesses.

Kellie Northwood, CEO, Real Media Collective and executive director of the Keep Me Posted campaign says, “While it is disappointing it was not an outright ban, we respect the Consumer Affairs Forum decision and welcome the supportive sentiment. We hope that this result sends a clear message to businesses to apply common sense and do the right thing for all Australian consumers.

“The ministers have recognised the issue and supported Keep Me Posted in that way. They have sent out an explicit warning to businesses. This is a great outcome for the campaign, with the government holding companies accountable, and it is a good alternative to going through the lengthy process of making legislation.

[Related: Northwood lobbies AusPost in Canberra]

“Keep Me Posted is also giving businesses the opportunity to check themselves. Our job now is to monitor companies and to let the government know if anyone is still charging fees.

“It does impact our mailhouse and print members, who are seeing this add to an accelerated print decline. The print industry is one of the largest manufacturers in Australia and it keeps being slugged by everyone else. Members of the industry need to stand up for themselves.

“This is clear acknowledgement from State and Federal politicians that our industry has a valued role to play amongst Australian society.”

EnergyAustralia earlier this year abolished its own paper fees, being the first Australian company to do without external intervention.

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.

Northwood adds, “I am on the Keep Me Posted international board and kudos to Australia, we are one of the youngest and most successful campaigns in comparison to other countries. It is a credit to our members and our stakeholders.”

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