Paperless statements cause an expensive nightmare

Woman's hands holding a credit card and using laptop for online shopping

Companies love paperless billing and statements, because it saves them a small fortune in printing and postage. We're sold the idea because it's apparently going to save us from the paperwork and bring order and calm to the world of bill paying (and we may also get a discount if we accept it). In reality, however, it has proven a nightmare for thousands of people.

USwitch says that most credit card users now have paperless billing, so it investigated the impact - and discovered that one in six people have missed a payment in the last six months because they didn't get a paper bill - and ended up paying fines as a result.

This isn't just an expensive pain in the neck: if it happens frequently, late payment will start to damage your credit record, and make it hard to borrow money in future - including getting a mortgage.


Part of the problem is that people have not got to grips with the technology. A third of people say they haven't been able to access their online account - while one in ten have forgotten their password, so haven't a clue about their balance.

Others just don't get round to it, so that when they finally remember to view their statement online, one in five said their balance was higher than they expected, and one in eight have been confronted with an unexpected bill.

This problem isn't confined to credit card holders. The Keep Me Posted Campaign found that 41% of people think they would be more likely to miss a bill if it was delivered electronically.

What can you do?

The easiest way to ensure you never miss a bill is to pay by direct debit, so that whether you get around to checking your account online or not, your bill will be paid on time. The trouble is that while this works fine for things like utilities (which are designed to be the same each month), we need to know about other more variable bills - like credit cards - well in advance, or a surprise direct debit could cause serious damage to our finances.

If you can access your account, make sure you are signed up for email notifications, which should prompt you to look at your bill when it's ready - so you have plenty of warning of each payment.

If you can't access your account because you have forgotten your passwords, go straight into them right now, and click to reset them. This will take five minutes and will transform the visibility of all your finances.

USwitch is calling on providers to offer effective apps to make it easier to understand what we owe, but in the interim, it also pays to see what apps are available and download them. At the moment over half of those with paperless statements have never checked their credit card balance through a smartphone, but with a notification from an app, this would be a simple and speedy way to stay on top of your bills.

Of course, this isn't going to work for everyone. The Keep Me Posted Campaign points out that 5 million households don't have internet access, and 16 million people don't have basic online skills - so some people simply need paper bills.

The campaign is particularly worried about the additional charges being brought in for paper bills - punishing people who are not online. It wants to see every company give people a free choice of how they would like to be billed.

However, if you are never going to get to grips with online billing, then it may be worth paying for paper bills. You'll need to check the associated charges first - and weigh them up against any charges or inconvenience you have suffered from missing paperless bills. On balance, for some, paper is a more cost-effective approach.

So what do you think? Would you pay for paper? Let us know in the comments.

5 Hacks to Keep Your Room Clean, All the Time

Most outrageous bill mistakes
See Gallery
Most outrageous bill mistakes
Carol Sandford, 72, called 118 118 from her mobile phone unaware of the charges involved. Calls to the number cost £1.88 per call and there is also a £2.57 per minute charge from landlines. TalkTalk raises this to £5.68 for the first minute and £3.28 per minute after that. TalkTalk told Carol the charge £81.12 charge was correct but luckily 118 118 were kinder, offering to repay the charge in full. Read the full story here.
One Londoner was more than a little confused when his debit card was declined while he was trying to buy just six bottles of American craft beers. But he quickly realised that instead of the £22.30 he owed, he had been charged £223,000! It's thought he punched in the PIN number before the machine was ready and it added the numbers to the total. Luckily the 28-year-old saw the funny side and laughed the incident off. Read more on the story here.

Early Lewis from Detroit was amazed to find his water bill was almost 100 times as much as he was expecting. The bill claimed that Lewis had used 3,740 gallons of water in just one hour. Thankfully common sense prevailed and the Water and Sewage Department admitted it was a mistake and subsequently charged Lewis the $36 he should have been charged initially. Read more on this story here

George MacIntosh, 73, was charged a staggering £200 for premium-rate gambling texts he didn't intend to sign up for. Unfortunately this wasn't a scam but a legal service from a company called Zamano. It seems the retired vicar had accidentally signed up after responding to an initial text from the company. Read the full story here.
Philip Groves was amazed to receive a £1,411 bill from Vodafone last year for his 10-year-old daughter Trinity's phone. It turns out Trinity had watched 28 hours of instructional loom band videos on YouTube, assuming her phone was using wifi. But the wifi had cut out, leaving her phone using the data allowance at it's highest rate. Vodafone refused to cancel the bill and threatened legal action. Read more here
Daniel Pontin was in for quite a shock after opening a gas bill charging him £31,000 for a year's worth of gas in a one-bedroom home. Pontin claimed his meter was broken when he moved in and was initially charged £35 a month for six months before he stopped receiving bills. When the huge £31,000 estimated bill arrived Npower told Pontin to ignore it while they investigated. Read the full story here
Read Full Story