The Freedom of Choice

Over the past five years, the Keep Me Posted campaign has been working hard to retain people’s right to receive paper bills at no extra cost. Now, with 12 countries running the campaign and a number of successes under its belt, it’s spreading its message worldwide.

From September 16 this year, BT altered its policy on customer billing. There was no big fanfare, not much in the papers, and certainly nothing on TV. They stated that if any of their customers wanted to receive their bills on paper, they would have to pay the utility giant £3 for each one. That’s £3 for printing a few sheets of A4, putting them in an envelope and putting it in the post.

In anyone’s view, £3 for a paper bill (on top of the bill itself) is a lot of money. But for the elderly, the poor, the disabled, those without access to the internet, or simply those that feel they shouldn’t be penalised for wanting to receive their bills on paper, it’s at best unfair, at worst financially dangerous.

“We’ve protected over 100,000,000 transactional relationships in the UK alone”

“There are a range of vulnerable people in our society that are told to go online but simply cannot,” says Judith Donovan, Chair of Keep Me Posted, a Europe-wide campaign to give people choice when it comes to receiving bills and statements. “What are you supposed to do if you haven’t got broadband or you have a major disability that means you can’t go online? Or you can’t afford it because you’re unemployed or you’re a student? It’s terribly unfair.”

Understanding the issue

And it’s not just BT that charge for paper bills. Sky (£1.75), TalkTalk (£2) and Virgin Media (£1.75) all penalise their customers who prefer paper rather than online bills, while many high street banks and energy suppliers encourage paperless billing, some even offering cheaper tariffs to their digital-only customers.

For many people, being unable or unwilling to pay for a paper bill isn’t confined to the high charges. Having difficulty accessing their account details and paying the bills can lead to missing payments and running up debt. It can also become a problem when it comes to buying or renting a house, as many banks will only accept an original paper utility bill as proof of identity.

“Another problem is understanding what can be very complex statements,” says Judith. “We did a very big study in 2015 with 3,000 people, in which we sent half of them a bank statement in print and half the same statement online, then asked them questions about it. We found that 83% of the paper statement people got the answers right, while only 32% of the online statement people did.”

100,000,000 transactions and counting

A few months ago, the Keep Me Posted campaign celebrated its fifth birthday with a reception at the Welsh Assembly. In those five years, Keep Me Posted has gone from a small UK-only campaign to a vast global network of countries, each lobbying their respective politicians, charities and industry bodies to get behind the campaign and galvanise public support for changing the law around businesses and organisations either making customers pay for paper bills or taking the choice away altogether.

“We’re starting to make some real inroads with the service providers.” says Judith, “Many of these companies have agreed to receive our best practice mark of distinction, which means they agree not to take paper away or charge for it. So far, we’ve protected over 100,000,000 transactional relationships in the UK alone.”

The European view

One major development in the Keep Me Posted campaign over the past few years is the amount of different countries that have taken it up. As well as Keep Me Posted UK, there’s the overall Keep Me Posted EU campaign, which campaigns for all member states of the European Union by seeking to influence the European Parliament.

There are also 12 country campaigns, each one tackling the specific issues in their country around making sure people have a choice when it comes to how they receive their bills. These countries include Germany, France, Ireland, Slovenia, Spain, Austria, Belgium and Finland, as well as North America, Canada and Australia.

“It’s certainly a growing movement, with different approaches in different countries,” says David Gold, Director of Public Affairs & Policy at Royal Mail and founder of Keep Me Posted. “Many European countries target their efforts at the institutions of Europe by trying to influence legislation and regulations. For instance, Spain target their politicians, as well as MEPs in the European Parliament, looking for any opportunity to keep raising the point that this is about choice.”

Across Europe, there are widely different attitudes towards paper bills and statements. While countries such as Germany have a strong belief that people should be able to easily access their information and have everything available on paper, other countries are quickly becoming digital-only, with governments as well as big business expecting everything to be done online.

“Across the EU there is a feeling that if you open a new account you won’t be offered the opportunity to receive print statements,” says David. “There’s an assumption that you’ll do everything online. But there are success stories. As a result of the campaign, it’s now against the law to charge you extra for paper in Spain.”

A campaign in every country

The ambition for Keep Me Posted is for every major country to have their own campaign, working hard to make sure that people all over the world retain their freedom of choice when it comes to how they are communicated with. Being exclusively online may work for some people, but for others it creates a huge amount of problems that can cause real hardship.

“This is all about giving people choice, which is something I believe we all cherish,” says David. “This is particularly relevant in the countries where technology is rapidly being adopted, because if we don’t move quickly it’ll be difficult to reverse the trend.”

Article written by Sam Upton

Source: TwoSides UK