Businesses are being warned against trying to profit from charging their customers' credit card surcharge fees, with the competition regulator launching legal action against Europcar over the practice.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is alleging that for a period of several months in 2017, Europcar charged customers excessive surcharges for paying with Visa or MasterCard credit and debit cards.
Those differences ranged from 0.18 per cent to 0.65 per cent – or up to 65 cents for every $100 spent.
However, it is not just the act of charging excessive fees, but doing so deliberately that has drawn the wrath of the competition watchdog.
According to the ACCC, the rental car company was fully aware of its processing costs after being informed by its bank in July 2017, but continued to charge customers over and above this rate until early November.
“The alleged conduct by Europcar in relation to its surcharge rates is particularly concerning, given we will allege that it was well aware of its own cost of acceptance from at least July 2017,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims.
“Businesses must not charge customers more than it costs them to process a card payment.”
Mr Sims added: “The ACCC’s action serves as a warning that the ACCC is paying close attention to those businesses who seek to overcharge customers making payments by credit or debit cards.”
Europcar has been contacted for comment.
By law, businesses are not allowed to profit from the fees, and are restricted to imposing surcharges that reflect their actual transaction costs. The ban on excessive card fees came into force on 1 September 2017.
Europcar is not the first business to be caught out by the rule change, with online retailer RedBalloon – which was founded by Shark Tank panellist and entrepreneur Naomi Simson – forced to pay penalties of more than $43,000 in November after the ACCC served notice of multiple compliance breaches around its use of surcharges.
In 2016, Darron Kupshik, the CEO of homewares retailer House, told My Business that his company actually makes higher sales volumes from not passing on any such surcharge to customers.
“Retail is very, very difficult at the moment; it has been difficult for the last few years. So to get a customer in your store, to go through all the effort of convincing them to purchase a product, not having them go and buy that online from one of the pure online players, and only to get to the counter and be told there's a surcharge, sometimes that can actually push them away from a sale,” he said at the time.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.