May 29 2010 by Ellen Roseman
Many people have asked me about Bell Canada’s new late payment fee — 3 per cent a month or 42.58 per cent a year compounded.
As Bell says here, the regulated part of your bill is subject to a much lower fee of 1.25 per cent a month or 16.07 per cent a year.
I guess the CRTC, which regulates an increasingly smaller share of Bell services, would never allow a 3 per cent monthly fee.
In September 2008, Bell lost a class action lawsuit initiated by Ottawa customer Peter DeWolf, challenging its imposition of a $25 monthly fee on overdue satellite TV accounts. The Ontario Court of Appeal supported Bell a year later, saying the $25 administrative fee was a legitimate charge.
Now Bell is trying another way to make customers pay more when they’re late. But what bothers me is Bell’s high error rate. How many people refuse to pay some or all of their bills because the charges are just plain wrong?
Rogers also makes errors, as you can see from Dawn’s story below. Her life was turned upside down by fighting off a collection agency hired by Rogers to collect bills she didn’t actually owe.
Fitness clubs use collection agencies to bludgeon you into paying overdue bills. Door-to-door energy sellers do it as well. They know you don’t want to get a black mark on your credit rating.
Many people will pay charges they don’t think are legitimate just to get rid of the bill collectors.
There’s a fundamental inequality here. Consumers have to fight back against billing errors with their own time and money, as interest charges add up and collection agencies are called in. They sacrifice a lot to keep going.
Meanwhile, companies can enforce their payment threats through legal means — and write off their costs.
Sure, some people don’t pay their bills routinely and raise costs for others. But my concern is for those who have real grievances and can’t see them through to the end because of usurious interest charges and heavy-handed collection efforts.