"Community and Culture" - who are they kidding!?
Check the wording of the following sentence which I quote from their letter, and see what you think:
"In order to pay next year's Council Tax and make it as easy as possible you need to pay by Direct Debit."
Now, clearly NCC don't believe that members of the public are capable judges of what constitutes the "easiest" (a totally subjective evaluation at best) way of doing something! For me, it is absolutely NOT easiest to pay things like council tax (my biggest monthly bill BY FAR) by direct debit - not by a long way!
Yet, if you read that sentence quickly (as I did the first time), on the surface, it seems that you are being told:
"In order to pay next year's Council Tax [...] you need to pay by Direct Debit."
Which is of course EXACTLY what they want you to read. In fact, they probably spent at least an hour pontificating how they could word that sentence in such a way that a good proportion of people would read EXACTLY that!!
As a consequence of that one deliberate deceptively crafted sentence, I wonder how many people will feel strong-armed into setting up a direct debit when they'd really rather not? I'm fairly well educated, yet I still had to re-read it a couple of times just to make sure.
NCC have no right to tell me what I "need" to do in order to make my life easier - who do they think they are!? The only person qualified to make that decision is ME, and there are numerous reasons people like me don't pay bills by direct debit.
Because of the nature of my work (not on a regular salary), I can't always be sure how much money is in my bank account each month, so prefer to make these kind of payments manually using online banking in order to maintain some control over them.
Generally I find that staying involved in my finances, rather than automating them, gives me a much clearer picture of where I'm at each month. Direct debit may give you "total control over your payments" by some narrowly-defined way of measuring that - but in fact, by removing yourself from the process, you actually just hand over your control of it to the council. I prefer to maintain my OWN control over this, because even if it means I have to spend a bit of time on it each month (and occasionally get a reminder letter), it's worth it.
Direct debits have an annoying habit of helping you forget when monthly bills go out, meaning you mistakenly believe "I have £120 left this month" and then overnight you find your funds have been reduced to small change because of a direct debit you'd forgotten about. For people like me, this can be an absolute disaster which repeatedly lands me in debt, sometimes accrues punitive bank charges, and has on occasion even left me unable to afford food. All of this can be easily avoided, if only I stay involved in the process.
Even a standing order is less problematic, just as easy to set up for a fixed amount regular monthly bill like council tax, and allows you to automate the process while still staying involved in it enough to change things if you need to. Standing order is INFINITELY preferable to direct debit for bills like this, but personally, I still prefer to trigger everything manually.
"Avoid the crunch and help yourself", they say at the top of their letter? I fail to see how allowing multiple chances each year of a completely automated process putting me in more debt overnight without my being aware of it is likely to help!
No, direct debit is not about helping the poor public avoid the credit crunch - it is about helping BUSINESS avoid the credit crunch.
Ultimately, businesses love direct debit because it allows them to better predict their own input of money. This is because predictable and automatic billing methods REMOVE control from the public and puts it in the hands of business. They want to make it harder and harder for people not to pay by direct debit, and give us the impression that we "have" to pay our bills their way. Not only that, but they are desperate to convince us that this somehow works in OUR OWN interests!?
Some companies (case in point, Virgin Media, AKA. "total and utter bastards") even charge customers a £4 a month "administrative fee" for not paying by direct debit. As if me triggering an electronic payment each month creates more work for them than if they trigger it? No, it's all about control - THEIR control over OUR money.
Direct debit may work well for some people (probably those who aren't in much debt, who are on a regular salary which always covers all of their monthly expenses), but for people on lower incomes and people with debt problems, especially during a recession, direct debit spells disaster. We need to refuse it all the way, before - in the future cashless society that government wishes to create - it becomes the only way of paying bills.
(Of course, you may have guessed that with me posting on this site, I have a rather different vision of a future cashless society - one in which things like banks and bills don't even exist, because community takes their place.)
So I won't be taking NCC up on their uninvited and incorrect diktat of how I can pay my bills more easily, and now I have one more reason - because some unaccountable bureaucrat is being paid for by us to try and trick us into doing what is best for business. (No surprises there!)