Telecom's payment fee hits older people hardest

Senior citizens groups say moves by Telecom to charge customers fees for making over-the-counter bill payments will result in elderly people losing much-needed human interaction.

Telecom introduced a $1.50 fee this week for customers who want to make a payment at a NZ Post shop.

The fee is in line with moves throughout the business sector to limit face-to-face contact with customers by steering them towards paying bills electronically.

Grey Power Manawatu president Lew Findlay said the push was upsetting for a lot of older people.

He said paying bills over the counter was almost a social event for them.

"It's older people that are going to get hit by this . . . older people are just being ignored."

The fee has enraged Palmerston North woman Heather Carter, 77, who said she felt she was being manipulated into using the electronic services.

"What it all boils down to is they want you to use direct debit, everybody wants you to do direct debit," Carter said.

"Well, I'm of the old school and I still pay by cheque."

Carter has a computer but admits she doesn't know how to use it and doesn't trust herself using the online services to pay bills.

She said it was too risky "for us oldies".

"I wouldn't know where my money was going."

Telecom spokesman Richard Llewellyn said the move to digital channels was the way forward for customer service.

He said the fee was previously absorbed by the company and the decision was made to pass the charge on to the customer.

Last month the Manawatu Standard reported the Westpac bank branches on Broadway Ave and in The Plaza were holding "education days" where customers are encouraged by staff to use alternative services for banking.

Palmerston North woman Sally Johnson wasn't impressed and felt pressured to use the electronic service.

She said she didn't trust electronic banking and preferred not to use it.

Age Concern New Zealand chief executive Robyn Scott said there were many older people who were not confident using online services and, if forced to use them, would be at risk of being scammed.

"Age Concern sees 2000 referrals of elder abuse every year, and over half of these referrals are cases of financial abuse, including scams."

A spokesman for New Zealand Post said the company provided an over-the-counter bill payment service for a range of third party organisations and had been charging the organisations a fee for many years.

Telecom is not the first company to pass on the service fee to customers.

Mercury Energy introduced a $1.50 charge for over-the-counter transactions in 2010 and offers a discount on bills when a customer uses the electronic services.

Meridian Energy also has the same fee attached to over-the-counter transactions at Westpac and NZ Post shops.

A spokeswoman for the company said the fees had been in place for a number of years.

Manawatu Standard