OPINION: Elderly shouldn't have to shoulder this burden

MERCURY OPINION

An elderly woman receives a bill. With trepidation, she opens the envelope.

What she finds inside is a rude shock: a bill several times higher than what she was expecting.

It worries her for days, even weeks.

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Anxiously she calls the biller. It will be the first of many such calls. Each time she is confronted by an "automated voice system" that talks like a person but can't understand a word she says.

When a real person does finally come on the line, she gets no joy anyway. She may even need to visit the company's office and stand in line, or enlist the help of relatives and friends.

Eventually it will be established that the bill is only an estimate. Ultimately, it will be adjusted to reflect her real bill and then she will be given a credit for the difference.

But right now, she is expected to pay the estimated amount in full.

The details of our little story may change here and there. But the bottom line rarely does.

For many of our elderly and frail pensioners, an exceptionally large bill is financially and emotionally draining.

It does not help them to learn that the money will be credited back to them later.

And all because a giant corporation which makes almost $1 billion profit a year cannot get its act together.

And because it thinks it's OK for the little old lady to shoulder the burden in the meantime.

We say, shame on them for failing to understand that the amount of money an executive might splash out on a nice lunch can cause so much distress and anguish to the elderly, frail or disadvantaged.

Shame on them too for saddling their shareholders and investors with grossly inefficient systems and processes that needlessly increase the cost of handling calls, complaints and double-accounting.

It is high time some proper standards and rules were imposed.

But we are not holding our breath.

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