& Parcel - July 8, 2013
A group of charities, consumer watchdogs and postal operators in the UK has launched a new campaign to stop banks, utilities and telecoms firms forcing their customers to use paperless billing. The “Keep Me Posted” campaign is funded by the three largest postal companies in the UK – Royal Mail, TNT Post and UK Mail Group – with Post Office Ltd also behind the campaign.
Charities supporting the campaign include Mind, the National Consumer Federation and the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners.The campaign warns that switching bills and statements to digital channels is not always suitable for a “large proportion” of UK consumers, but businesses have been looking to switch transactional mail to electronic channels in order to save on cost.
Data from ONS suggested that in the first quarter of 2013, 14% of the UK population had never used the Internet before, while statistics from GoOnUK suggests that 16m people in the UK above the age of 15 do not have basic Internet skills.
The campaign also cites research carried out by Opinium Research in May 2013 that said 84% of people in the UK are unhappy when companies take away their right to choose how to receive communications, with 81% feeling they would have a better chance of reading statements if they were available by both post and online.
The Opinium study also suggested 40% of people believe removing paper statements entirely could “seriously” affect their finances, prompting missed payments.
The Keep Me Posted campaign wants businesses to adopt a “Right to Choose” pledge demonstrating their commitment to allowing customers to decide how they receive their important communications.
Judith Donovan, the former Postwatch vice chair and current chair of Royal Mail’s Strategic Mailing Partnership, is chairing the campaign.She said it was “foolish” for businesses to make assumptions on their customers on choices like how they receive important communications.
“Statistics indicate that many consumers want choice. Not all consumers are currently ready or willing to communicate with companies solely through digital means,” said Donovan, who made her name as an entrepreneur in the marketing industry.
She said of the campaign: “We have a difficult job ahead of us but our demands are simple and to my mind, perfectly reasonable. All we are asking for is that major companies give consumers back the choice which, as customers, is rightfully theirs anyway.”
“Blatant”Mary McAnally, president of the National Consumer Federation, said industry regulators should act to stop the “blatant” shift by utilities and banks towards digital billing.
She said: “The switch towards purely digital communication means that those consumers without access to a computer clearly fall into this category and therefore the NCF urges the various Utility and Financial Services Regulators to act immediately to stop this blatant creep towards paperless bills together with cost discrimination for those who do not wish to receive their bills online.”
Post Office Ltd launched a campaign last month to help its customers get online, offering local information about training courses and Internet access points.
But the company said people currently lack the skills for businesses to decide they can switch to digital communications without offering customers the choice.
Mark Davies, the Post Office director of communications, said: “Our customers come first and we believe that they should have a choice when it comes to receiving information. That’s why we are supporting the Keep Me Posted campaign. 16 m people lack the skills to benefit fully from the internet. It’s critical that they are given the support they need to make the choice as to how best to take advantage of these benefits. We are working hard to support efforts to give people the digital skills they need by helping them access online learning and skills centres.”