Paper billing is an issue that’s only come up in the last five years or so. It’s becoming increasingly common for companies to offer customers paper billing for a small fee under the guise of being more environmentally friendly. However, with more and more companies are defaulting to electronic billing and charging the customers that insist on a hard copy of their bills, there exists a clear need for some kind of regulation of these practices.
The problem is that the practice of charging for paper billing varies from company to company, and there is no policy in place to regulate pricing, which means Canadians are paying a ton of money every year just to receive a paper copy of their bills. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has called for the elimination of paper billing after a recent report revealed that Canadians are paying between between $495 and $734 million annually in fees for paper billing relating to banking, phone, TV, home internet, and wireless services.
The report estimates that Canadians without internet access or access to a computer are paying between $77 million and $102 million on paper billing fees every year. That figure is just for those that aren’t actually able to receive electronic billing. PIAC goes on to say that if you assume 1 in 10 Canadians with internet access choose paper billing anyway, this estimate jumps to between $215 million and $312 million annually. Similarly, if you bump that number to 3 in 10 Canadians, the figure is estimated at between $495 million and $734 million. That is an astronomical amount of money when you consider all businesses were providing paper billing for free until pretty recently.
PIAC also talked to consumers about paper billing and their feelings on companies charging extra for hard copies of their monthly bills. Not only do the majority of those surveyed disapprove of charging for paper billing (74%) an even larger number (83%) felt sending out paper bills in the mail was part of the company’s cost of doing business. A total of 71 percent of people approved of the idea of giving a discount to those that choose electronic billing.
The report comes just after the CRTC’s announcement of a pro-consumer initiative that challenges the communications industry to come up with an approach to paper billing that is both clear and predictable. CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said the regulatory body is concerned Canadians don’t have a reasonable choice when it comes to paper billing.
Change could be on the horizon, though. The PIAC study notes that the Canadian government has, on two occasions, stated its intention to end paper bill fees, once in October 2013, and again in February 2014. During Budget 2014, the Minister of Finance committed the government to prohibiting the practice of charging consumers for paper bills. As it stands, the cost of paper billing ranges from $0.99 to $5.95 depending on the company.