Ticket charges: No more 'excessive' card surcharges

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Consumers booking a range of items from cinema tickets to hotel rooms now have new protection from card surcharges.

A ban on "excessive" debit and credit card charges begins on Saturday 6 April.

The government said it should put an end to unscrupulous practices by some businesses.

Until now, many people have been asked to pay large surcharges for using cards, especially when booking online.

Typically, people trying to book concert tickets, theatre seats, hire cars or train seats discover at the end of the payments process that they have to pay many pounds extra to use a debit or credit card.

"The practice of excessive payment surcharges has been ripping off consumers for far too long," said Jo Swinson, the consumer affairs minister.

"They are fed up of thinking they will be paying a certain price for goods, only to find out towards the end of the process that the final price is much higher," she said.

Airline industry

Under the new rules, payment surcharges will have to reflect the actual cost to the retailer of processing the card transaction.

That includes fees they have to pay to Visa or Mastercard, for instance, or the cost of installing a chip-and-pin device.

How much should your credit card surcharge be?

  • transaction of £50: £1.16
  • transaction of £100: £2.10
  • transaction of £250: £4.94

source: OFT, 2011

But in many cases, this should be minimal.

For example, according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), someone spending £100 on a travel ticket could expect to be charged 53 pence extra if using a debit card, or £2.10 if using a credit card.

The figures, produced in 2011, suggest the cost of using a debit card remains at just over 50 pence, however large the transaction.

But the government stresses that charges will differ according to individual businesses.

In the past, the airline industry was the worst offender.

The government says that in 2010, airlines charged passengers up to £350m in card surcharges.

But following an investigation by the OFT, airlines including Ryanair, Easyjet and Aer Lingus agreed to include debit card charges at least in their headline prices.

The ferry industry was the next biggest user of surcharges, according to the government, charging its customers up to £145m.

Enforcement

The new rules are being brought in earlier than the rest of the EU Consumer Rights Directive, because of the concern that was first raised by Which?

"Over 50,000 people supported our campaign to end rip off surcharges, so we're pleased the Government is implementing this ban," said Richard Lloyd, the executive director of Which?

But he warned that people needed to be vigilant about businesses that tried to avoid the ban.

"For it to be effective, there must be a tough enforcement regime and companies must play fair and not pass costs on to customers in other ways. We will be monitoring the ban closely and want people to tell us about surcharges they think are excessive," he said.

Consumers are entitled to receive a refund of the excess surcharge they have paid, according to the government. If necessary, they can bring a private claim to recover such surcharges.

However, there are a number of sectors which are excluded from the new rules.

Very small businesses and companies just starting out will not be subject to the rules until June 2014.

Some companies in financial services, gambling, healthcare, social services, property and passenger transport are also excluded.

Other elements of the directive will be implemented over the next year.

Those include new rules on cancellations, refunds and delivery times.

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