Consumer Affairs Ministers No-no No-Paper-Bill-Fees

Article published 22 November 2018

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On 26 October 2018, after many delays, a decision was made by the Consumer Affairs Ministers at their Forum.

Here is the decision in full:

Ministers attending considered the Decision Regulation Impact Statement on paper billing fees. Ministers agreed to encourage businesses not to charge vulnerable or disadvantaged consumers to receive paper bills by providing a strict twelve month period to increase the subscription to their existing exemption programs (option 2 in the Decision Regulation Impact Statement). Ministers expect this approach will mitigate consumer harm and detriment for vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers while minimising regulatory costs for businesses. Ministers issued an explicit warning to business that if the increase in exemption program subscription is not met, Ministers will favourably consider a complete ban on paper billing fees.

What this seems to say is that businesses must be able to show over the next twelve months that they are giving more exemptions from paper bill fees. If not, the Ministers will ban paper bill fees.

When CPSA rang the federal Treasury to ask for a copy (electronic!) of the Decision Regulation Impact Statement referred to in the decision, it was told that not the Treasury but the Office of Best Practice Regulation would publish the Decision Regulation Impact Statement.

CPSA then asked for a contact in the Office of Best Practice Regulation, so that we could ask them to send us a copy.

“But they don’t have it!”, exclaimed the Treasury official.

“How are they going to publish it, then?”, CPSA asked.

“Once we give it to them in a couple of weeks”, replied the Treasury official, sounding exasperated.

In a nutshell, Treasury had the document but wouldn’t give CPSA a copy, even though the relevant media release referred to it.

Meanwhile there are a number of questions:

  • Can you get an exemption if you are not vulnerable or disadvantaged but just want to receive your bill in the post?
  • How many exemptions do businesses have to achieve and who checks whether they have?
  • What is so difficult about saying that anyone who insists on receiving a paper bill should get one without being charged?

Businesses have twelve months to take the ministerial encouragement on fees for paper bills to heart. This takes us to October 2019.

THE VOICE will keep you posted.

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