Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Price of Progress

There was some startling old harridan on Breakfast News this morning (you can tell I am working away from home) who, apart from appearing to be auditioning for Miss Prism, was suing BT for charging her extra for insisting in paying in cash.

Now, the direct debit system is far from perfect - see here and here - but her main argument seemed to be that since cash was good enough for the Roman Empire, it should remain the main engine of payments for the 21st Century. Now, the reason we are not still mostly slaves and peasants, living in rustic poverty propping up the lives of a few patricians is the massive improvements in productivity since Caratacus screwed up in 43AD.

Cash has many problems compared to electronic payments - you need office space to receive it, cashier time to count it, change to pay out, total it at the end of the day (in case the cashier has developed sticky fingers), take it to the bank (and your courier may well be violently robbed) - who will charge you for depositing it and count it, again. All of this takes time which, axiomatically, is money. No wonder utilities prefer electronic payment.


Anonymous said...

The main point of the legal action is not about whether they pay by cash or electronic means, but the charges incurred for doing so.

No-one pays cash directly to utilities, they pay at the PO or through the bank, and the utilities pay the gathering companies, the same as they pay for BACS, which is not, contrary to popular belief, free. Cash or electronic, the utilities still pay.

The point of the court case is that the utilities claim to offer incentives to pay by DD, but in fact they do not, they charge disincentives not to, which is a very different thing.

You do not pay less if you use DD, you pay more if you don't, this is the opposite of what they claim they are doing with these charges, and why the companies like BT will lose.

Tony said...

BT charge me extra for paying in any way other than direct debit. I am not paying in cash, so I do not know why I should pay extra for an electronic transaction that I control, rather than one BT controls.

anthonynorth said...

I look at it another way. Paying cash means there must be a human face on the business's front line. This provides connection between business and public - and as such, accountability.
Take away that face, as is done with electronics, and the business loses touch with its public, and eventually has nothing but contempt for the customer.
Give me cash payments any time. I want to know they're my servant, not my master.

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