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Keep Me Posted Campaign

Volume 635: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2018

Representatives of the Keep Me Posted campaign are dedicated advocates for consumer choice on billing. Neither I nor current BEIS Ministers have met them, but my officials have done so in the past and are familiar with their campaign and the valuable work they do.

Considering the levels of digital exclusion, including in broadband coverage in my constituency, will the Minister agree to meet me and Keep Me Posted to discuss the implications for our constituents?

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s point about exclusion, I think the House can celebrate the fact that, under this Government, 95% of the country will be covered by our superfast broadband roll-out. However, I take his point on board and will be delighted to meet him.

Will the Minister work with banks and utilities to ensure that charges for paper billing are restricted to the actual cost of providing that service and are not allowed to become a cumulative fee for those who need or choose paper bills?

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to meet the Keep Me Posted campaign. That is a very welcome development, particularly because older people in my constituency have made representations to say that they find it intolerable that they are not able to get paper bills. Will he assure me that he will take this on board for the whole United Kingdom?

Absolutely. I do agree that consumer choice is important. Many suppliers offer paper bills, but they are not cost-free. It is important to recognise that at a time when we are seeking to boost productivity, it is not unreasonable for businesses to incentivise more efficient billing processes. The regulatory framework varies by sector. Where charging differentials exist, we would look at that. I am happy to look at it across the whole United Kingdom.

While recognising the gradual shift away from paper statements and bills as they go online, it must be acknowledged that 16 million people over 15 years old still do not have basic online skills and 5.2 million households still do not have access to the internet at home, and they may face penalisation for requesting a paper bill or statement. What action, exactly, will the Minister take to ensure that people are not penalised for making what should be a legitimate consumer choice? What strategy will he put in place to make sure that people who do not have these skills at the moment can develop them in future?

The hon. Lady makes the very important point that we should make sure that those who need paper bills do receive them and are not unfairly penalised. Any discount made for paperless bills, or charge for paper bills, in sectors where this is allowed must be justified in relation to the relevant administration costs. We do not believe that the Government should intervene to make other customers for whom online billing and payment is perfectly acceptable bear the costs of providing a paper billing service.