O2 forced to back down on electronic billing policy
MOBILE phone company O2 has been told that it cannot bill customers by email without their consent.
The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) last night notified O2 that it was breaking the terms of its licence by switching customers on to electronic billing without their express agreement.
The company has been given one month to remedy the situation or else face court action.
The mobile company sparked controversy in August when it wrote to its 120,000 billpay customers telling them that in future they would receive their bills electronically instead of by post, unless they specifically requested postal bills.
Consumer watchdogs last night hailed the decision by ComReg as a victory for customers who didn't want to be forced into receiving electronic bills that they might find hard to keep track of.
"It's very very welcome because a lot of people are paying bills by direct debit and they find it easier to keep tabs on what they're paying if they have a paper bill to check," Consumers Association of Ireland chair James Doorley, who first raised the issue, said.
"If people want to receive bills by email that's fine, but that doesn't suit everyone, particularly older people and those who don't have access to a computer at home."
Electronic bills also tended to be harder to access because they involved remembering security codes and PIN codes, which could be barriers to checking them.
ComReg said it would hold a consultation process on e-billing next month to get the views of all stakeholders on the issue.
In a statement, O2 said the company "believes it is in full compliance with its regulatory obligations and will respond to Comreg accordingly highlighting the very positive consumer reaction to its initiative".
The outcome of a trial on electronic billing earlier this year had been very successful and they had introduced it for all 120,000 billpay customers, of whom 35,000 had opted to continue receiving paper bills.
"In addition, any customer currently on eBilling always has the option of switching back to a paper bill if they so wish, at no additional charge," the company said in the statement.
"There are significant benefits for consumers who use on-line billing including the ability to view their bills at any time, check how much they have spent during a billing cycle and look back at previous bills.
Before moving any customer to electronic billing they had sent them a letter involved a letter to each customer followed by two reminder text messages.