The news that BT is introducing a “penalty” for people who pay by cash rather than direct debit almost passed me by last week. Apparently, evil BT are going to punish pensioners and the needy, are pushing up charges by £4.50 with a new surcharge, or hiking charges by £4.50 per quarter for customers who pay by cash or cheque in a move that amounts to introducing stealth charges.
At present, BT gives customers who pay by direct debit a £1 discount per month. From May, they are reducing the cost of line rental for everyone by £1 per month, scrapping the direct debit discount and introducing a surcharge of £1.50 for people who do not pay by direct debit. The net increase for those who prefer to pay by cash is therefore 50 pence. The idea of having a different price for paying by cash is nothing new.
This just goes to show how the spin the media puts on an story can change people’s perception and make the matter seem much worse than it is. “BT increase prices by 50p” doesn’t have quite the impact as, “BT punish pensioners with £4.50 penalty.” The media’s reporting of the increase has no doubt done more to worry pensioners than the small print in BT’s pricing leaflet would have done.
As I understand it, people on BT’s Light User Scheme won’t have to pay the new charges for cash payment anyway. Anyone who spends enough on calls each month not to qualify as a light user clearly isn’t the sort of vulnerable person who is going to worry about a 50p per month increase.
While I do think the media is to blame for the way they have reported this story, it does have to be said that it’s a spectacular public relations blunder on the part of BT. Moving from a reward for paying by direct debit to a penalty for paying by cash is bound to result in negative press coverage. It makes me wonder if they have been warned about their current practice of advertising headline prices that already include a “discount” for paying by direct debit…