21 May 2015

Excessive credit card fees persist

Consumers are still getting slugged by excessive surcharge fees levied by merchants on credit card payments, the Reserve Bank of Australia says.
The RBA is examining Australia’s card payments regulation after the Murray Financial System Inquiry raised concerns about a number of issues, including interchange fees and card surcharges.

RBA assistant governor Malcolm Edey said the issue of surcharging remained contentious.

“Instances of apparently excessive surcharging have persisted,” he told the Cards and Payments Conference on Thursday.

He said there were arguments that the current regime was too complicated and difficult to enforce.

“The card payments review is looking at several possible mechanisms for addressing this,” he said.

Edey described one option, proposed by the Murray inquiry, was to crack down on excessive surcharging as “a tiered approach” allowing tougher surcharging constraints to be placed on low-cost cards.

Another option, he said, would be to cap surcharges at a low fixed amount.

According to consumer group Choice, the average merchant service fee for Mastercard and Visa is under one per cent, but merchant mark-ups of up to 2,670 per cent persist.

Choice points to airlines Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair as prominent companies that engage in excessive surcharging.

Qantas has been a vocal critic of plans to cap credit card surcharges.

Edey’s comments come after RBA governor Glenn Stevens in April also flagged potential changes to surcharging rules.

He said while surcharging helped shop owners keep their costs down, a possible change could involve preventing surcharges for some payment methods like debit cards.

Stevens said while surcharging tended to be a hot button issue with consumers, the RBA stood by its decision to introduce surcharging in 2002, calling it a valuable reform.