Business

Card surcharges: Is this finally the end?

Charging extra to anyone using a credit or debit card will be banned in the UK from Saturday, 13 January.

This will mean an end to the extra cost added on at the end of the process of buying something online, such as a flight ticket, or being hit with a surcharge when using a card in a small shop.

However, the change may mean a rise in prices and there are questions over how it will be policed.

When were we most likely to be charged?

The travel industry prompted the most anger from customers for adding on card surcharges to the headline price, according to James Daley, founder of Fairer Finance.

Mr Daley was instrumental in an official super-complaint about excessive card charges in 2011 when at consumer association Which?. He says that, back then, a family of four could be hit with a surcharge of £48 simply for paying for a return flight on a credit or debit card.

This far outweighed the cost of processing the payment, just a few pence in the case of debit cards.

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Take-away food apps, ticket booking sites and even government departments have all demanded extra for paying by card.

In 2012, businesses were told these surcharges could only reflect the extra costs they faced for processing these payments. This led to some grey areas, was poorly policed and, at times, ignored.

Now, the new ban covers card surcharges of any amount.

Will this mean higher prices?

Probably. Businesses still face the cost of accepting cards, although it is cheaper than it used to be.

As a result they may add this cost into their headline price.

Campaigners such as Mr Daley argue that this will still be much better for customers. It will make it easier to compare total prices when looking for the cheapest deal.

Does this cover all types of surcharge?

No. Extra fees that have nothing to do with the way you pay can still be charged. So, for example, a cinema or theatre can still charge a booking fee and an airline can charge for choosing a seat.

There has already been criticism of a new “service charge” on all orders made with takeaway food app (and FTSE 100 company) Just Eat.

This charge of 50p is the same amount as the card payment surcharge that it has withdrawn.

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Money experts say it is wrong to rebrand credit card fees as a service charge. Just Eat said it had already been considering changes to its charges but that “the change to legislation did play a part in prompting the review”.

Can businesses refuse to accept cards?

Any business is within its rights to refuse a method of payment. The question is whether this will affect their custom by doing so, especially as the use of non-cash payments is growing fast.

Some pubs and small shops already say they will only accept a card when the customer spends more than £5 or £10, and they can continue to do so.

One major organisation that will no longer accept credit card payments after 13 January is HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The UK’s tax authority says there were 454,000 cases of people in the self-assessment system settling their tax bill by credit card in 2016-17.

It has been charging up to 0.6% for payment by credit card, and says it would be unfair to expect other taxpayers to pick up the cost.

  • Self-assessment: concern over fewer ways to pay tax

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Who makes sure businesses keep to the rules?

Trading standards officers are supposed to police the system, and consumer groups have called on them to ensure businesses do not find a way around it.

However, the organisation that represents trading standards officers says that these departments, based in local authorities, have seen their numbers and funding cut in recent years.

As a result, checking up on card surcharges is “unlikely to be a priority” for local trading standards teams, it says.

This is a European rule. What happens after Brexit?

The UK rules are an extension of European rules under the second Payment Services Directive, to be precise.

Having been written into UK law, they will continue after the UK leaves the EU in 2019.


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