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Utilities: Fees and Charges

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 19 July 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what recent discussions he has had with Ofcom on the review of utility bill charges for people who do not pay by direct debit. (150759)

None, but my ministerial predecessor the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) raised the matter with the chief executive officer of the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the independent regulator. Ofcom announced on 6 June that it will carry out a full review of communications providers’ additional charges. Ofcom expects to announce the conclusions of its review in the autumn and progress may be monitored on its website www.ofcom.org.uk

The review will cover charges for non-direct debit payments, as well as other additional charges including late payment, restoration of service and early termination fees. It will cover fixed and mobile operators, and pay TV services. Ofcom will look at the nature and level of charges levied by communications providers and how well signposted and transparent such charges are. It will investigate how far consumers are aware of additional charges, whether they are able and willing to shop around on the basis of core prices and additional charges rather than just core prices, and whether there are certain groups of consumers who are unable to do this and therefore may be disadvantaged.

On investigating this issue, it has become clear that it would be wrong to look at BT in isolation. More than 40 per cent. of homes are provided with telephony services by operators other than BT, and the differentials for payment by non-direct debit range from no extra charge to £15 a quarter. Some providers provide no payment option other than direct debit.