Are paper billing fees unfair? Government plans to investigate

Are paper billing fees unfair? Government plans to investigate

If your bank, utility company or telecommunications provider charge you extra to receive paper bills, the Australian government may want to hear from you.

A consultation paper has been recently released, with Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, calling for submissions:

“There has been a significant shift away from paper billing in recent years, yet not every Australian consumer has the means to access digital billing and it is unfair to punish them for being unable to do so.”

“Better outcomes and protections are needed for those consumers who do not have the option to transition to digital bills and who can least afford to be penalised.”

The situation:

Power and gas bills, phone and internet bills, bank statements and so on, have all traditionally been delivered to consumers in paper format via postal or courier services. The costs of preparing and sending these paper bills have traditionally been absorbed by the business. 

In recent years, digital delivery of bills and bank statements has become more common, with digital bills being seen as simpler and cheaper to issue, more convenient for both companies and consumers, and more environmentally friendly than paper bills.

The problem:

To encourage customers to transition from paper to digital bills, some companies have begun applying penalties for sticking to paper bills in the form of fees.

According to the Keep Me Posted Campaign from TSA Limited cited in the consultation paper, the price charged for paper bills in Australia varies from $1.50 to $2.75 per bill. 

mobile bill

While some Australians stick to paper billing out of personal preference, other disadvantaged Aussies lack the ability to access digital bills, and could be being unfairly penalised as a result.

These disadvantaged Australians can include those who:

  • have a low income;
  • have a disability—e.g. an intellectual, psychiatric, physical, sensory, neurological or a learning disability;
  • have a serious or chronic illness;
  • have poor reading, writing and numeracy skills;
  • are homeless;
  • are very young or old;
  • come from a remote area; or
  • have an Indigenous background.

While some businesses offer exemptions on paper billing fees for disadvantaged Australians, there are concerns that these vulnerable consumers may find it difficult to access these exemption programs.

Possible solutions:

Options for governmental intervention to protect disadvantaged Australians from being unfairly targeted by paper billing fees being considered by the consultation paper include:

  • An industry led consumer education campaign
  • A prohibition or ban on paper billing fees
  • Prohibiting essential service providers from charging consumers to receive paper bills
  • Limiting paper billing fees to a cost recovery basis
  • Promoting exemptions through behavioural approaches

The Federal Treasury is currently seeking consultation on the matter from individuals and businesses, with submissions due by 22 December 2017.

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Learn more about bank accounts

How do I close my bank account online?

You can usually easily open a bank account online, but you often can’t close it online.

Many banks and credit unions will only let you close an account if you go into a branch or call them on the phone.

However, some banks will let you request to close the account via your internet banking. Check your financial provider’s website for details.

Just remember: If you still have funds in the bank account, transfer them to another account, or withdraw the cash. Also, if you have any payments like direct debits going in or out of the bank account, these will also stop when you close your account.

How do I close a bank account?

Closing a bank account is one of those tasks that’s easy to put in the too-hard basket. There are quite a few steps involved, some which may require you to hang on the phone for a while.  

Here’s a handy checklist of items to tick off, so the job gets done quicker. If you don’t do your banking online, the following steps can also be done at a branch.   

  • Cancel any scheduled or recurring payments
  • Update your direct debit details (such as loan repayments) with creditors
  • Export your payee address book (to keep a record of saved third-party bank account details)
  • Transfer the balance of your account (to the new bank account)
  • Close your account online, or by calling the bank or visiting a branch

Can a debt collector garnish my bank account?

A debt collector can garnish your bank account, but only with a court order. This drastic action is usually taken only if you’ve ignored several notices asking you to pay the debt.

If this happens, there is nothing you can do to stop it other than immediately pay back your what you owe in full or make arrangements to pay it off in installments.

Once a garnishee order is issued, your bank will put a freeze on your account as it processes the order. This usually takes two to three days and you won’t be able to access any of your money during this time.

If you have Centrelink payments, they may be protected, depending on what the court order says.

Can foreigners open bank accounts in Australia?

Many Australian lenders allow foreigners to open bank accounts in Australia. Often, this can be done before you arrive in the country – with no Australian address required. When you get to Australia, you can pick up your debit card, using your passport as identification.

Can you get a payday loan without a bank account?

Yes. Some payday lenders are willing to transfer loans to prepaid debit cards instead of bank accounts.

How do you find a bank account number by name?

For privacy reasons, Australian banks won’t hand out account numbers or other details about their customers. However, if you provide a bank with a BSB and account number, they should be able to confirm if those numbers belong to one of their customers.

Can foreigners open bank account in Australia?

If you’re migrating, studying or working in Australia, you’ll be pleased to know that you can open an Australian bank account. For the most part, opening a bank account in Australia is a simple process which starts by comparing the types of bank accounts foreigners can open in Australia.

Once you’ve found a bank account that suits your needs, you can start the application process.

When you apply for the account, you’ll need to provide proof of ID which may include your passport, overseas ID or credit card. You may also need to provide a copy of your visa and proof of address in Australia.

Depending on the bank and the type of account you choose, you may be able to apply for the account online or over the phone before you arrive in Australia.

What do I need to open bank accounts online?

Opening a bank account online is a simple process and only takes between five to 10 minutes to complete. To get started you will need a computer or smartphone with internet access.

Information to have available when you’re ready to apply is:

  • Identification (such as driver’s licence, birth certificate, passport, proof-of-age card)
  • Tax file number
  • Residential address, email and a contact number

In some cases, you might be asked to provide employment details. If you’re not able to verify your identity online, most financial institutions let you provide this in the branch at a later date.

There are some types of bank account that you can apply for only in a branch. However, most bank accounts can be applied for conveniently online.

Can the government take your money from your bank account?

There are some instances when the government can take money from your bank account. This generally occurs in situations where you have an outstanding government debt.

Before it can take money from your bank account, the government authority owed money would first need to issue a garnishee notice. 

A garnishee notice is issued by the government agency (such as Centrelink or the ATO) to a third party that holds money for you or owes you money.

To take money from your bank account, your bank would be issued with the garnishee notice requiring it to pay ‘your money’ to the requesting agency to satisfy the debt.

Do you need a bank account to sell on eBay?

You don’t need a bank account to sell on eBay. But if you don’t have a bank account, you must provide either a credit card or debit card.

What do you need to open bank accounts?

Opening a bank account is one of the simplest online tasks you could perform. The hard part is deciding which type of bank account you want to open.

All banking institutions have a website where you hit ‘apply’ on the account of your choice and step through an application in less than 10 minutes.

Here’s a list of information that is generally required for applications.

  • Identification (driver’s licence, passport, proof of age card, proof of citizenship and/or birth certificate)
  • Tax file number (so you don’t get charged the highest tax rate)
  • Address, contact email and phone number

If you decide to open a new account at the branch, make sure you ask beforehand what information you need to take with you, or take all of the above to be safe.

Can I close a bank account with pending transactions?

You can close a bank account with pending transactions. But after the account is closed, any incoming transactions will be declined by your (old) bank.

The best way to ensure this doesn’t occur is to either wait to close your account until all pending transactions are complete, or contact the creditor and supply them with alternate bank details.

If you’re unsure whether you have any scheduled transactions, you can speak to a banking representative over the phone or via online support.

In most cases, your bank withholds the amount owing for pending transactions (such as online purchases).

Because the pending amount is deducted from your bank balance, you can close your bank account and the purchase will be honoured.

Can I open a bank account in another country?

Despite having a bad rap for facilitating tax evasion, it is possible and legal to open a bank account in another country, also known as an ‘offshore account’.

Some people choose to open a bank account in another country to invest overseas, for higher interest-earning potential or to access foreign banking services.

The process for opening an offshore bank account differs depending on the financial institution and country in which you’re opening the account.

Typically, you will need to provide identification such as a passport, a local bank statement and a signed declaration proving the source of the money being used to open your account. Usually, deposits into offshore accounts can be made by international money transfer.

Can I set up a bank account online?

Most Australia-based lenders will allow you to set up a bank account online. Requirements vary from lender to lender, but you will probably need to provide a passport or birth certificate, as well as a driver’s licence, Medicare card or another form of secondary ID.