Next week in the House of Lords, Peers will debate an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill that would ensure people have a choice in how they receive their utility bills and bank statements - enabling people to choose paper bills if that's best for them. The amendment, tabled by Conservative Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes, aims to place a duty on suppliers of utilities, including electricity, gas, water, telephone and internet connections.
The moves have been championed by the ‘Keep Me Posted’ campaign. If accepted, either by the government or passed in a vote, the amendment would allow consumers to request bills in paper format and do so free of charge. At present, such requests can lead to financial penalties for those not paying bill digitally.
Although the Keep Me Posted campaign focuses on the benefits to vulnerable, elderly people a change in the law could actually impact on a much broader range of consumers. Around seven million people in the UK do not currently have internet access. Alongside this, lots of people – including the self-employed and those working away from home - need original paper copies of domestic bills to prove their identity. As of course, do many people in the private rented sector.
One of the great ironies of Generation Rent is that politicians and media assume we are more digitally savvy than others, when in fact we are often more dependent on traditional customer services – not least the paper bank statement. Many fellow renters moved to paperless banking in a belief that it would save us time and money only to learn that, in today’s renting culture, it does neither. Many landlords and agents - or even banks - will only accept original documents. For those renters who can expect to move several times in as many years, such statements are a necessity. Without them, the already tortuous task of securing somewhere to live becomes even more difficult.
You also have to think of the very poorest renters, people placed in the private rented sector because they are homeless and there's no social housing for them to be placed into. These are often people living in horrific conditions and for whom an internet connection is a major luxury. We can't be a society that levies them an additional charge to receive their bills on paper just because they're too poor.