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David Vernon

Making people "pay to pay" is unfair and needs to be stopped, the federal Opposition said Wednesday, urging the Harper government to ban companies from charging fees for sending monthly bills by mail.

A number of telephone, Internet and other firms have recently begun charging customers fees if they want paper bills delivered.

"Making folks pay to pay," is a cash cow that needs to be put down, said New Democrat MP Andrew Cash.

"It isn't as though these companies are offering a new service for this," Mr. Cash told a news conference.

"This is a new fee for an old service. It isn't fair."

Bell, as an example, says it charges $2 to offset the costs of producing and mailing a printed bill. There is no charge for getting a bill over the Internet.

"You can save paper and save yourself the $2 charge each month by signing up for e-bill service," Bell says on its website.

Rogers Inc. also charges a $2 fee, but says it doesn't retain the money it collects.

"Instead, we've taken steps to ensure that proceeds are directed to where they'll do the most good: supporting youth and basic skills education through the Rogers Youth Fund," the company said in a statement released in Aug. 2011 when the fee came into effect.

But Mr. Cash says the "pay-to-pay" fees unfairly target seniors and families already struggling to pay their bills, as well as those who do not have regular access to the Internet or don't like paying bills online.

And he says the companies reap huge savings already from customers who have voluntarily switched to online billing.

"(Consumers are losing) millions and millions of dollars, not for any new service, but simply to continue to pay the way many Canadians have always paid," he said.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons, CARP, has received hundreds of calls and e-mails about the fees charged by utilities and even some banks.

The group, representing retired people across the country, says it recognizes that the world is becoming more and more digitized and that paperless bills and statements will likely become standard.

But the fees were instituted "without considering those who are less well-off or still disconnected from the Internet," said CARP.

"As a result, these individuals are penalized unfairly and forced to pay to receive their bills."

CARP wants service providers to either reverse the charges or provide exemptions for vulnerable individuals.

Not everyone opposes the fees.

"No sympathy from me here, I'm afraid," wrote Brad, a contributor to the online discussion board

"I am a fan of e-billing and support the policy of making people pay to get paper statements. E-billing is cheaper and uses fewer resources; it should be the standard for the future."