Ask LH: Can I Be Charged For Printed Bills For My Mobile Service?

Ask LH: Can I Be Charged For Printed Bills For My Mobile Service?

Dear Lifehacker, I have my mobile phone with Crazy John’s and just received notification that my bill is going up by $1.10 to send out a paper invoice. I was a bit miffed at this when Optus did it years ago and was wondering about the legalities of it. I have a small freelance business and like the paper invoicing for my records. Can I send them an invoice for processing for the same amount and get away with it? Thanks, Paperlover

Dear Paperlover,

Being charged to receive a paper bill can be very annoying, but that doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily got formal grounds for complaint, or to send an invoice to Crazy John’s. It’s hard to avoid being charged to receive a printed bill in the mail these days — virtually all the major carriers have introduced similar policies in recent years.

I am not a lawyer, but there’s nothing obviously illegal about such a change (if there was, lawsuits would have started long before now). All agreements with mobile providers include a clause which says the terms and conditions may be varied from time to time, subject to the customer being notified. You’ve received notification, and in effect your continued use of the service will signal agreement to that change.

The likely reason sending an invoice wouldn’t make any difference is that you’ve signed an agreement with Crazy John’s to receive specific services from that company on its terms. It hasn’t made an agreement with you to pay charges associated with your using that service.

With that said, there’s no harm in ringing up and asking if you can have the fee waived. The mobile market is competitive, and the cost of acquiring a new customer is potentially much higher than $1.10 a month. If you make enough of a fuss, you might find that the fee is eliminated. The worst thing that can happen is that Crazy John’s says “no”. At that point, you’d need to decide if changing providers is worth it (but again, you’ll struggle to find one that doesn’t have similar charges, I suspect).


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  • I am not sure about Crazy John’s but most companies that send out an electronic invoice send it as a PDF file of the print version.

    I would have thought it would have been easier to print that out for your records instead of trying to get the paper invoice fee waived.

  • I have the exact opposite problem not having a fixed address. I don’t want paper bills and find it annoying when companies insist on sending invoices and renewals by mail. Get with the program people it’s 2012 not 1912.

    • +1 I hate paper bills, it is a security risk, space hogger and not very green. I also cannot believe companies still send paper bills. Vicroads excepted but with number plate recognition even rego is outdated.

      • +1. For all your reasons above, I hate paper bills. Plus you can’t run a search through a folder on a shelf to find a specific number or piece of text located on a piece of paper. With a PDF, you can.

  • No services are provided for free. If they’re forced to provide paper bills for “free”, then they’ll put their prices up and force everyone to pay for them whether they want them or not.

  • I had this problem several years ago when Optus did it, I rang up when I heard about it and said I don’t want to pay a couple of dollars each month for something that was free when I signed the contract, they said that’s fine and I wouldn’t be charged. Next month I got the bill and was charged for it, I rang up and complained and eventually got through to an Australian guy who was very rude and was practically laughing at me making a fuss over “a few dollars” I told him that it adds up to $20-30 per year,

    • And times this by the number of customers who will still want paper bills, its a money grab. Anyway he told me I could leave if I wanted but I would have to pay the disconnection fee for leaving the contract, I said no, I can leave because you are changing the agreement, he said I couldn’t, I complained to the TIO and simply stated in my complaint that I have a right to leave my contract because they are altering it, Opt us rang me back like an hour later and said I would never have to pay the fee for paper bills 🙂

      • TIO FTW. For those of you who’ve never gone to the TIO, they are like the magic customer service organization that you WISH your mobile provider had. It’s amazing how easily complete logjams get unstuck the minute they get involved.

        Telcos tend to have dedicated teams of (onshore! I know, shockers…) customer service people whose job it is to make sure those making TIO complaints are as satisfied as the TIO decides they should be. I believe I read somewhere that the cost to the telco of resolving each TIO complaint is upwards of $200, so anything you’re asking for that’s reasonable and substantially less than that, is fertile ground for a pre-TIO complaint win.

        The telcos know that the TIO is a successful consumer advocacy org, and know that the number of TIO complaints per telco is now publicly reported. So it is often the case that the mere threat of involving the TIO causes good things to happen. Albeit sometimes this only works after you elaborate with confidence regarding, “Go ask your manager’s manager if he or she thinks it’s worth a TIO report, which will cost your company at least $200 to resolve, for you not to honor this promotion whose expiry date was mentioned ONLY INSIDE the package although the promotion itself was mentioned on the front of it,” if you’re talking to a low level newbie who’s never heard of the TIO. This works as much because the newbie gets concerned they’ll look like an idiot to their manager, about something that sounds important to their company, as anything.

        And definitely, new charges make a great excuse to get out of contracts. The point of a contract is that both sides make an agreement. They can’t go adding charges even if “minor” onto your bill that aren’t in the contract, without losing contract lock-in, as far as I know, even if they claim otherwise. That’s not how the law works.

      • I would have thought this, if you signed up for a phone service specifically because they send out free paper bills, and then they alter the agreement where your minimal monthly cost is increased, you should have a right to leave.

        I think companies should give people a discount for opting in for electronic bills. They end up saving money printing and posting, so why can’t they pass that saving onto the customer? They save money, and earn extra, it’s a double win for them.

        I discussed this very issue before here

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