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Nationalised Industries: Customers' Bills

Volume 475: debated on Monday 2 June 1986

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2.49 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how widespread in the nationalised industries is the practice of issuing a routine threat in respect of an unpaid bill irrespective of the customer's record of prompt payment hitherto.

My Lords, practice in respect of unpaid bills is a matter for the commercial judgment of the industries themselves.

My Lords, I am obliged for that Answer. Has the Minister not detected instances where the public monopolies seem to think that they can treat a customer any way they like without fear of losing his custom, unlike private retailers in competition with others?

My Lords, I think that in general the public monopolies treat their customers with fairness. I understand that there is normally a period of 21 days between the receipt of the first bill and the red bill; and then there is a further seven days to two weeks before an inquiry is made as to why the bill has not been paid. A number of customers are unable to pay their bills and help for that comes through social security arrangements. But a vast number simply do not pay the bills on time.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that when these accounts are first sent out, the great bulk of them are normally paid quite punctually? In the interests of economy and bearing in mind that all these concerns have computerised records, would it not be possible for the computer to throw out the exceptions and then send out reminders to them rather than broadcasting the reminders in the way they do at present? Surely such a course would be the best way to proceed. If the noble Lord wants the names of any computer programmers who will effect that for those organisatons, I point out that many of us on this side of the House will be happy to supply a variety of names from whom they can choose. Surely that is the best way of going about it.

My Lords, it is a matter for the industries themselves. I am sure that they will take note of what the noble Lord has said. However, it must be for the industries themselves to decide how best to deal with the matter.