Paying a bill used to be such a simple matter. Someone would send you a piece of paper, you would hand over money or a cheque. Now there are so many different ways to settle up – including popping into the Post Office and paying over the counter, in a bank branch or having money taken out of your account by direct debit.
Robert Halfon, MP for Harlow and a supporter of ours, has been campaigning for a while about the excessive charges imposed by energy companies on those who do not wish to pay by direct debit. Last week he welcomed a decision from regulator Ofgem to fine Scottish Power for not justifying the premium of £180 it charged those who didn’t.
We have heard similar stories from our supporters too – of all ages! Many have grown so distrustful of large businesses that they don’t want them to have unlimited access to take money from their bank accounts. Comments range from, “We are paying by cheque on time yet are penalised for not paying by direct debit” and “I don't like direct debits. I should not be penalised for this” to this cautionary tale:
“I had a bad experience with the … company, who insisted we had to pay by direct debit. Their billing system was so inefficient that they cut off our telephone twice in a month and in the end the regulator made the company pay us compensation. We had so much hassle that since then we do not pay any company by direct debit.”
Yet people like these who simply want to be in control of their money are penalised by not receiving discounts those paying by direct debit are allowed.
As long as you pay what you owe, when you owe it, is it really fair that some people are charged over the odds simply for choosing a method that helps them manage their finances better?