Treasury to assess paper billing fees

The Treasury will undertake regulatory assessment of fees for paper billing following the Consumer Affairs Forum (CAF) in Melbourne on Thursday.

Industry lobby group Keep Me Posted has been advocating strongly for the removal of fees, which were brought in by the big corporates under the guise of environmental protection, but which have become a revenue raising activity.

Printers have been hit hard by the switch to internet bills, with the corporates pushing people onto online comms by effectively introducing financial penalties to stay with printed bills.

The Forum will be attended by commonwealth, state, territory and New Zealand Ministers in charge of Consumer Affairs. The CAF says it considers consumer affairs and fair trading matters of national significance and, where possible, develops a consistent approach to those issues.

Federal Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, says, “Consumers including the elderly and disadvantaged who do not have access to technology to receive digital bills should not be penalised and asked to pay exorbitant fees for each bill they receive.”

Kellie Northwood, executive director, Keep Me Posted says, “This is a step forward for consumers. Minister McCormack has recognised that disadvantaged groups are the most impacted and we urge him to use all the power available to his office to take decisive action in the matter and not delay a process which is impacting millions of Australians.”

Ministers at the CAF will be introducing consumer education on paper bill fee exemptions as an interim measure while the laws are assessed. Keep Me Posted says it has provided information to the ministers that the exemptions vary immensely, with supporters reporting enormous difficulty in obtaining them. To assist, Keep Me Posted has been providing letter templates.

Northwood says, “Australians are confused and frustrated as to their rights and what steps they should take, we consistently hear when people try to move from a service provider the only other options that operate in the area are also charging fees. Utilities in particular need to review their practice, it is appalling the way Australians paying for essential services are being treated.

“Raising awareness about exemptions will not be enough. We believe it is not up to the private sector to assess people’s vulnerabilities. We see great discrepancies between providers, some granting exemptions for people over 60, others for people over 80. People feel that they are discriminated against because of their age of their personal situation. We will be working with Minister McCormack on how we can build best practice guidelines and legislative reform to truly protect consumers.”

Commonwealth, State, Territory and New Zealand Ministers in charge of Consumer Affairs attend the yearly CAF forum.

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