Excessive card surcharges will be banned, says Treasury

Debit card
Image caption The Office of Fair Trading called earlier this year for the law to be changed

"Excessive" fees for using a debit or credit card to buy items such as travel or cinema tickets will be banned by the end of 2012, under government plans.

The move comes amid complaints that airlines, booking agencies and even councils were imposing excessive charges for using a card.

However, firms will be allowed to levy a "small charge" to cover payment processing costs.

The regulator has been investigating some airlines over surcharge clarity.


Consumers buying a ticket online are often charged extra when they tick a box that says they intend to pay using a credit or debit card.

Sometimes, consumers have found the payment is only added after they have ploughed their way through up to eight pages of a website.

Examples of these charges are a £6 per person, per leg "administration fee" charged on all but one card by Ryanair, an £8 per booking charge by Easyjet - plus 2.5% when using a credit card, a £4.50 per booking credit card fee from British Airways, and a charge of up to 17 euros (£14.16) per person by Air Berlin.

Local authorities and the DVLA also levy charges, as do many train, ferry, theatre and cinema ticket merchants.

Sunil Pandit told the BBC that he was charged £72 for using his debit card to buy airline tickets for his family.

"You come to the end of [the online process] and think there cannot be anything else, surely, particularly if you are paying by debit card. I was shocked," he said.

The issue of high surcharges prompted the consumers' association Which? to call on the regulator to investigate, saying "the price you see should be the price you pay".

However, it accepted there could be an additional cost added for the cost to the retailer of accepting a card.

The regulator, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), published a report in June about the travel industry's use of surcharges.

It said charges must be clearer and surcharges for using a debit card should be banned.

Now, the government is planning to go further than the OFT's recommendations and change the law so all "excessive" surcharges are banned.

'Ripped off'

In effect, the government is bringing forward the implementation of new European rules, which were pencilled in for mid-2014.

These rules said that only the actual cost of processing card payments could be charged to consumers.

Image caption Some airlines have faced criticism from consumer groups for their policies

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's important that consumers know up front what charges they pay.

"What we have announced today will give consumers the transparency they need.

"I think consumers do feel ripped off and we want them to be able to shop around."

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said that debit card transactions cost the trader about 20p, and credit cards cost about 1% or 2% of the total price.

"Given that airline passengers alone pay more than £265,000 a day in card surcharges, businesses should not drag their feet over this," he said.

"While the law will come into force at the end of 2012, we want companies to be upfront and fair over card charges today."

He hoped that the Irish government would work at the same pace as the UK government in implementing the changes, to cover traders and travel companies based in the Irish Republic.

The process of accepting credit or debit cards as payment is quite complex, although retailers point out that they absorb this cost in their sale price.

The OFT calculated that travellers spent £300m on card surcharges in the airline industry alone in 2010. Ryanair responded to the government's announcement by saying that it charged an administration fee - which also covered the cost of running the website - rather than a surcharge.

The OFT has been investigating some unnamed airlines over the "transparency and presentation" of their surcharges.

The government will launch a consultation at the start of 2012.

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