Credit card fee changes: The hidden impact on small businesses & consumers

Press release

Companies will no longer be able to charge fees for using credit cards, following the implementation of a new EU directive.

credit card twiddlytwaddlytwoo.co.uk

Since April 2013 traders have not been able to charge consumers fees that exceed the cost for using a particular method of payment. However, from 13 January 2018 companies will no longer be able to charge any fees for the use of credit or debit cards. This includes payment methods such as Apple Pay and PayPal, too. The change also applies to Government departments and local councils. So, for example, DVLA will no longer charge you a fee for paying by credit card when you renew your road tax.

(Be aware though, that although the Law covers the EU and therefore there should be no charges for credit card payments anywhere within it, the UK Government extended it to Paypal etc. So if using PayPal or similar then you will need to check with the country as to whether they also applied this extension.

Is this good news for consumers? Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! thinks so. (That’s me that is).

She asks “Who isn’t annoyed when they have to pay a fee for paying for their car tax or to Ryanair for booking their flight?” Dewdney is emphatic that traders have had long enough to know this change has been coming to be able to plan and not pass increases in costs to consumers. “That goes for those Government departments, too, so there should certainly not be an increase in council tax fees and road tax to cover the supposed ‘loss’, thank you very much!”

She adds “Used wisely, many people pay by credit cards to defer payment and also to get cashback rewards!”

Scrapping the credit card payment charge on picture of card reader

However, not everyone welcomes the changes. David Taylor, who blogs at Thinking Thrifty and runs a café, fears that with no charge it’ll encourage card payments even further for really small amounts. He is considering not taking credit card payments any more, admitting that he will lose some custom “but if that custom is making me a loss, ironically, I can’t afford the custom anyway.”

The Federation of Small Businesses believes that David is not alone saying “many small firms will struggle to absorb the costs associated with card payments”.

Not all small businesses agree though:

Richard Allen of Reflections Detailing – a car restorer – has never charged a fee for using credit cards. He says “It’s just a cost of doing business and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty small cost. I didn’t know it was coming though. But actually it costs me more to handle cash in any case!” He notes that credit card transactions incur a fee of 2.389%, debit card transactions 0.495% and cash 2%. Every card transaction also has a 5p authorisation fee. No company ever charged for handling cash!”

Then there’s places like Just Each which had a 50p credit card  charge. They have had to scrap that and have introduced a 50p service charge for all transactions. Keep and eye out for those and come back here and tell us so we can have a rogue’s gallery!

The Taxman cometh
The HMRC has received criticism for abolishing credit card payments. A spokesperson for the HMRC said “We will no longer be accepting personal credit card payments from 13 January as new rules mean that we can no longer pass on what our bank charge for processing a credit card payment. It would be unfair to expect other taxpayers to pick up this cost. There are a range of ways for people to pay us depending on the type of tax being paid, including debit cards, Direct Debit, Faster Payment and BACS.”

Dewdney believes that people should put money aside as they earn it to pay their tax. “However”, she argues, “for some people less able to plan financially, or who suddenly find themselves in a difficult financial situation, the short notice (announced a few weeks before Christmas and nowhere on the HMRC website) will be very unhelpful.”

If you are struggling to pay your tax see Debt Camel’s 10 things you should know if you can’t pay your tax bill

Open banking changes
The arguments for and against the banning of charges are only part of the bigger picture. The ban comes in on the same day as the introduction of Open Banking which could potentially bring greater benefits for consumers.

Sara Williams is a Citizen’s Advice advisor and UK Money Blogger of the Year 2017 for Debt Camel, covering debt and credit ratings. She says that large retailers may try to bypass the current payment mechanisms and provide payment apps directly to customers. “Getting rid of charges for using cards will be generally good for consumers.” But she warns consumers to “Look out for side-effects. Card companies may reduce their charges to business and cash back credit cards may disappear as a result.”

Seen a business charging the fee?
Complain! Obviously! Write in the first instance claiming the fee back if you have already paid it. Use the Top 20 Tips for effective complaining. You can also report the company to Trading Standards and let us know about in the comments below too!

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For more information, guidance, advice, tips and templates on complaining effectively GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

Bright ideas for complaining about Brighthouse (& avoiding them in the first place!)

Sara Williams Debt camel guest post on The Complaining CowThis is a guest post by Sara Williams, an adviser at Citizens Advice who has her own website Debt Camel where she blogs about everything to do with debt and credit ratings. She also guest posted Everything you need to know about Payday loans The only person so far who has written two guest posts on my blog ‘cos she’s sooo good at her stuff!

BrightHouse is a “pay weekly” chain of shops which is loathed by almost all debt advisers.

What’s so wrong with BrightHouse?
Their interest rates are high, but that isn’t the only reason. BrightHouse goods are often much more expensive than a similar TV or washing machine would be from another retailer. In addition they make most people add on expensive insurance.

The result is that you could spend more than £750 paid over three years on a Hoover washing machine, when you could get a very similar model from AO.com at £230.

So far so bad… but these rip off prices are made worse by the fact that BrightHouse has often failed to check properly that its customers can afford the items they are buying. The quoted weekly amounts may sound manageable but most BrightHouse customers are on low income or just benefits.

And BrightHouse goods are sold on Hire Purchase agreements. So customers in the last year of their contract who have financial problems will often be desperate to make the last few BrightHouse payments, rather than lose the item they have already paid so much for. They may get behind with rent, council tax and utility bills or take out expensive credit such as payday loans as a result.electrical items can you get a refund - more than likelyBrightHouse refunds
In October the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), BrightHouse’s regulator, told them to refund a bit under £15 million to two groups of customers:

  1. People who had cancelled a purchase within the 14 day cooling off period but still made 1 payment. These refunds will be small as it’s only 1 week’s payment to be refunded.
  2. 81,000 people who bought something between 1 April 2014 and 30 September 2016 where BrightHouse think they should have done more affordability checks – average refund £125.

If you want to know if you will be getting a refund, call their free helpline: 0800 30 40 80. £15 million sounds good, but in practice not many people are getting them considering the amount of stress and misery BrightHouse has caused.

The FCA took over as BrightHouse’s regulator in 2014, but before then the regulator was the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the OFT had the same rules about checking affordability as the FCA has. So I think people with older purchases should also get refunds. And if you had a purchase after 2014 which they aren’t refunding, you can make a complaint that it was unaffordable.

See How to make an affordability complaint to BrightHouse for a template letter and more information about complaining to Brighthouse.

If your purchase was “unaffordable” then you should get a refund of all the interest you paid, plus 8% simple interest and have any negative marks on your credit record deleted.

Other BrightHouse complaints
BrightHouse also have a poor reputation for customer service when something goes wrong – an item doesn’t match its description, or it is faulty.

If you have one of these “consumer complaints”, you have the same legal rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 as if you bought the goods from a normal shop. See the article on this website that looks at these rights and how to complain – it’s got some useful videos.

Alternatives to BrightHouse
Many people with little money go to BrightHouse because they are desperate. But here are some better alternatives, so check if one might work for you:

  1. Local Welfare Assistance Scheme (used to be called Crisis Loans). These are harder to get now than they used to be, but it’s worth asking your council if they help families to replace things like white goods and essential furniture.
  2. Budgeting loans If you have been on JSA, ESA, Income Support or Universal Credit for more than 6 months, you may be able to get an interest-free budgeting loan.
  3. Credit Union You may be able to join a local one or one linked with your job, eg NHS staff.
  4. Fair For You – this is an online alternative to BrightHouse, offering weekly payments but without the markup on the original prices and their interest rates are lower. Check them out!