The competition watchdog has been given stronger powers to crack down on excessive credit card surcharges after the Senate yesterday passed legislation aimed at protecting consumers from unnecessary fees.
The measures were recommended by the financial services inquiry and were introduced into parliament last year.
The laws will mean the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will be able to issue infringement notices worth up to $108,000 to companies it believes are slugging customers with excess credit card surcharges.
As it currently stands, excessive surcharging by merchants may be prevented under contractual arrangements with payment systems but are not explicitly banned under the law.
The rules approved by the Senate yesterday are aimed at preventing businesses from charging customers more than what it costs to accept their payment method.
In addition, the Reserve Bank of Australia has been tasked with helping to set out what kind of surcharges are permissible by developing appropriate guidelines.
The ACCC will be in charge of enforcing the new surcharge rules, with listed corporations facing a maximum penalty of $108,000 for breaking the law.
Incorporated bodies that are not listed corporations will meanwhile face a penalty of $10,800 if they are found to have hit consumers with excessive surcharges.
Meanwhile, unincorporated businesses, will face a penalty of $2160 if the consumer watchdog suspects they have breached the rules.
Should the business not comply with the infringement notice, the ACCC can then take the matter to court.
New surcharge laws expected to provide greater certainty for Aussie retailers
A spokesperson for the Australian Retail Association told SmartCompany this morning the organisation has been advocating for these laws for some time.
A crackdown on excessive surcharges is welcomed, according to the ARA, because additional rules will provide clearer guidelines for retailers.
“It’s a great first step,” the ARA spokesperson says.
“We look forward to seeing it play out. We’ll be working with the government on the rest of their recommendations from the Financial Services Inquiry.”
Rohan Harris, principal at Russell Kennedy lawyers, told SmartCompany this morning the new legislation builds on existing laws that require companies not to act in a way that is misleading or deceptive – for example, when making representations about the cost paying by credit card when purchasing airline tickets.
“I think these new laws will give the ACCC more specific powers to deal with these instances,” Harris says.
“The issuing of infringement notices is important as well, because it’s an additional enforcement power and doesn’t mean they [the ACCC] need to go to court to exercise their watchdog role.”