A standardized bill payment due date is need of the hourUpdated: Aug 02, 2020 19:06 IST
Why can’t all utilities in the country have a uniform billing cycle and a common due date for payment of bills? This would relieve consumers of the agony of having to keep tab of a variety of bills that keep coming throughout the month. It would also save time and energy spent in making the payments, besides precious money wasted on late payment fee whenever consumers forget to pay the bill before the due date.
I have argued for this in an earlier column too, but the issue has acquired greater importance and urgency on account of the situation arising out of Covid-19. Today, with the threat of the deadly virus hanging over their heads, consumers may be spending more time at home, but the necessity of having to sanitize goods, including groceries that come into the house, has increased their workload at home. Besides, many households are making do with reduced house help. In other words, consumers are already overburdened with additional work and the least the utilities can do is to reduce their stress by facilitating payment of all bills on one day in a month.
Today, consumers pay over a dozen different bills every month- power bills, water charges, piped gas bills, fixed line and mobile bills, cable / satellite/DTH/ OTT charges, broadband connection charges, credit card bills, equated monthly installments, service charges if living in a housing complex, well, the list goes on.
However, what complicates the payment is the varying payment due dates. Some are in the first quarter of the month, while others are in the middle of the month or the last quarter. So consumers are paying bills non-stop, throughout the month
Another problem is with the billing period. Take the energy bills, for example. In one city, the energy consumption is calculated for a month from the eighth of every month. In another, from the 27th. These dates also alter in the same city, if the energy distribution companies are different. These varied dates also cause considerable problem to consumers when they move house.
One sees similar lack of standardization in the billing cycles of water supply services, telecom services, piped gas connections. Instead, why can’t every service provider calculate the charges from the first of every month to the last and have a common due date for payment?
Today, paying your utility bills is certainly far easier than before. If you have an internet connection or a smart phone, you can use a number of options available for online payment. The Bharat Bill Payment System –the centralized bill payment system for utility bills- has also made it easy for even those without these facilities to go to a BBPS kiosk or agent and pay all bills under one window. But these amenities become more meaningful when all bill payments can also be made at the same time or on the same day.
Besides the convenience, such harmonization would ensure prompt payment of bills, thereby bringing down considerably, payment of late fee charges by consumers. In fact the penalty imposed by some of the service providers for delayed bill payment is particularly harsh, but the most exploitative are those imposed by credit card companies who also charge usurious rate of interest on the amount due in case of such delayed payments.
All this makes it absolutely imperative that we have a standardized bill payment due date across all utilities and certain financial services. And the initiative for this must come from the ministry whose raison de’tre is protection of consumer interest- the union ministry of consumer affairs. It must coordinate with all ministries concerned to enforce a common billing cycle and due date for all services.