Online services

I notice increasingly, that the convenience and ease of online services so often touted by the banks and public services, the local authorities and the inland revenue, the DSS, is simply a way to pass on a printing job to the end user. Which obviously makes things quicker and easier for suppliers, but not necessarily for us.

It sounds easy, and, with practice and applications, working online can be. We find a computer, click on a link to a service, create an account with an email address, password, and then we have access. Computer literacy is hard-won, not always obvious. And bingo, we can apply for passports and driving licenses on-line. No need to ever leave the house.

But all that does take thought, planning and a printer, preferably with a built-in scanner. And because of the rules about accounts and records, we often find ourselves printing off advice notes, leaflets, ‘how to’ manuals, tax returns, bank statements. “Make it easier!” my bank tells me every time I log on, “Get your statements delivered to your IN box!” Which means, yes, I have to print them. Save them postage, why not? Good idea…

Except that care is required when acquiring services. It is very easy to fall prey to the optimism of telephone selling, (“Only £25 a month…”) which is very hard to verify at the same time with any ‘online paperwork’. You can sign on with a consent, a mumble down the phone, but while doing that, it is almost impossible to verify the cost of international calls, (fifty pence a minute at full rates…What??) The most banal commitments can spiral out of control with equal ease.

So be warned. When acquiring a new, shiny online service, check the small print first, before agreeing on the phone that it is a good idea. Read and check any paperwork first, and think of some useful questions you need to ask, (Eg: does your phone package include the cost of international calls?”) before any agreements are printed off and your “Welcome, New User!” package arrives by online speedmail.

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