James Walker: Don’t be an easy target for penny-pinchers

Small change soon adds up
Small change soon adds up
Have your say

Small is beautiful they say – and big businesses certainly think so.

A certain fast food company raises somewhere in the region of £50 million for its charities each year just through the pennies dropped in to the collection boxes beside its tills. The pennies really do add up.

In similar ways, businesses often increase your bills by random sums. Take a look at your regular payments for council tax, water or the TV licence to name but a few. The bills have all gone up, but when you compare the monthly payments to last year’s, it doesn’t seem like much, does it?

Something about the way our minds work means we don’t register smaller sums as things to get worked up about unless we’re really canny – or struggling financially. Which is why increasingly, big businesses are charging us small amounts for services that were once free. I’ve seen £7.50 charged for picking up goods in-store. Some businesses are billing people up to £3 for each paper bill they send out. And don’t get me started on airline charges for changes to bookings.

Broadband businesses seem to be particularly big on charges for some services. A big provider has just started charging £7.50 a month for former customers to keep their email addresses. And it’s not just little charges either. I’ve seen people charged up to £200 to leave their broadband contracts early – in some cases if they’re moving to areas where their provider can’t offer the service.

I was thinking about the fabulously cheesy 80s classic Superman III this week as I helped sort out a range of broadband-related complaints. There’s a scene in that movie where Richard Pryor starts a new job and creams off the half cents from every employee’s wage packet. He makes $85,789.90 in one week. These charges add up. So, here’s how you can save some cash.

◆ Read your post. If a business is going to start charging you it has to let you know. But you might only get a few months’ notice. So, 
don’t ignore the post – even 
if it looks like a marketing letter.

◆ Check your bills. You might have missed a notification about a charge, so go through your bills. This is trickier these days as often they’re online and you might have forgotten the passwords. Grit your teeth, gain access and check for those stealth charges. These smaller sums might not jump out at you straight away, so check through the past three months item by item to see what comes up.

◆ If you’ve been charged for some time and you don’t feel you’ve been notified, make a complaint and ask for the cash back. Ask for proof of how they notified you.

◆ Share the news. Loads of your friends and family won’t be aware of these charges. No-one I spoke to knew about the charges for paper bills, despite many companies applying them automatically.

◆ If you have been told about a charge and you don’t think it’s fair, the firm should allow you to go to another provider without hitting you with an exit fee. Put your complaint in writing through Resolver for free and ask them to address it in writing.

I’m on a mission to tackle these rip-off stealth charges, so let me know your examples at yourstories@resolver.co.uk.

James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service Resolver.co.uk