Companies that slap customers with additional fees for mail-delivered bills are being accused of penalising people who don’t have internet access.
Up to $3.20 per bill is being charged to people who prefer them posted rather than emailed, consumer group Keep Me Posted says.
The group launched a campaign in Canberra on Wednesday calling on companies to stop charging people for paper bills and statements.
“When you add up all the utility bills, telco bills and financial statements, it’s those who are most disadvantaged who are impacted,” Keep Me Posted’s executive director Kellie Northwood told AAP.
The group highlights most Australian households with incomes with less than $40,000 not having access to the internet, with the elderly, disabled Australians or those in remote areas most affected.
Australia also lags much of the world in terms of internet affordability, according to a World Economic Forum report released in April 2015.
It ranked 76th out of 143 countries in terms of fixed broadband affordability, well behind Vietnam, the United Kingdom, Russia, India, Japan, France and the United States.
The Keep Me Posted campaign is supported by federal crossbench senators Nick Xenophon, John Madigan and Jacqui Lambie, with Senator Xenophon to introduce legislation to protect consumers from “unfair” fees.
The practice is a clear example of “corporate greed”, Senator Lambie said.
The push has been welcomed by seniors groups who argue the fees penalise people who are likely companies’ long-time customers.
“The internet is not universal. We are penalising people who have no idea even how to turn a computer on,” Council on the Ageing NSW’s Ian Day told AAP.
“It’s getting silly that customers are getting charged for what’s traditionally a normal way of working.”
The argument that non-paper bills are more environmentally beneficial is often overplayed, Ms Northwood said.
“E-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in Australia,” she said.
“Paper is a renewable resource whereas digital devices use finite mineral resources.”
Energy company Origin, which does charge a fee for paper bills, said it waived the extra charge for customers who contacted the company with legitimate concerns.
“We are happy to make other arrangements for customers who tell us they have difficulty with email or internet services,” a company spokesman said.