Forcing people to pay bills through direct debit may be illegal
Sinn Féin Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd has said that the practice of big companies of charging people who do not pay their bills by direct debit discriminates against people who do not have a bank account.
Mr O'Dowd said:
"The recent 'Households below average income' Report highlighted the reality that approximately one in five people living in low income families do not have a bank account; and seven in 10 had no savings.
"The practice of big companies, such a telecommunication giants BT and Virgin Media, of charging customers between £4.50 and £5 per month extra for not paying their bills through direct debit clearly discriminates against people who don't have a bank account.
"The net result of this practice is to penalise people who don't have a bank account unfairly. It puts an unfair burden on the 20% of people living in low income families who don't have a bank account. It will also be felt hard by groups such as pensioners who do not want to switch to direct debit and may also not have a bank account.
"This attempt to try and force people to pay their bills by direct debit may suit big businesses, many of whom post multi-billion annual profits, but it will act as a barrier to people who have little disposable income.
"I believe that this practice should be outlawed. Indeed I believe that it may breach an EEC Directive, the 'Unfair Commercial Practices' Directive 2005/29/EC which may cover this practice." ENDS