Graeme Morrice: Government must act to end card surcharges

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ONLINE debit and credit surcharges have been a thorn in the side of consumers for several years, with those travelling by plane or train being particularly badly affected.

These insidious charges, which you often only find out about at the end of a lengthy online booking process, cost travellers £300 million in the airline industry alone in 2010.

Therefore, I welcome the recent call by consumers’ association Which? for a small amendment to current legislation to outlaw the practice of surcharges on online debit card travel purchases. It says a simple change to the Payment Services Regulations could outlaw them.

Which? has taken the lead on this issue and its “super-complaint” on the issue, lodged with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in March this year, initiated an investigation. In June, the OFT proposed a change in the law for when consumers use debit cards, the most commonly held card in the UK.

The OFT said it considers surcharging for credit or debit cards potentially misleading – particularly when free payment methods are only available to a small proportion of consumers.

But despite a growing consensus on ending this practice, the government says it is still working on a response to the OFT’s recommendation.

And most airlines have yet to take voluntary action to improve their practices and some are even introducing new fees, despite having been ordered by the OFT to make their card surcharges clearer to passengers.

I have joined other MPs in signing a motion calling on the government to introduce measures quickly. It also calls on businesses to take further action to clarify their online payment processes so that customers are given upfront and clear information.

I hope the government will now listen and act to protect consumers.

• Graeme Morrice is Labour MP for Livingston