Belfast Telegraph

Air travellers to benefit from ban on ‘hidden’ fees

By Anne Madden

Northern Ireland air passengers will be the main beneficiaries of a Government ban on ‘hidden’ debit and credit surcharges, it has been claimed.

A staggering £27m was shelled out by Northern Ireland air passengers in credit and debit card charges in 2010 alone.

By the end of 2012, businesses will be breaking the law if they ramp up the price of flights, concert tickets and other goods with additional debit and credit surcharges.

The move follows a call by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for the fees, often added in the final stages of a transaction, to be banned for debit cards.

Treasury Minister Mark Hoban said consumers should be able to see “up front” how much they will have to pay.

The Consumer Council welcomed the Government’s announcement saying “we should not have to pay for paying”.

Aodhan O’Donnell, the Council’s director of policy and education, said: “This announcement is particularly welcome for air passengers in Northern Ireland who, the Consumer Council estimates, paid £27m in credit and debit card payment charges in 2010.

“That’s approximately £4.40 per passenger for each leg of every journey made. Making a payment for goods or a service is an unavoidable part of the transaction and therefore the price for paying should be included in the up-front cost. In other words, we should not have to pay for paying.”

Mr O’Donnell called for businesses and airlines in particular to start making the changes now rather than delaying until the end of 2012.

“In the meantime, if consumers would like to see the additional costs that airlines apply, they should visit www.consumercoun cil.org.uk,” he said. “Our airline costs table allows passengers to compare different airlines’ charges for services.”

The Government is pre-empting an EU directive which will ban many sectors from imposing above-cost surcharges on any form of payment from mid-2014.

Consumer champion Which? submitted a ‘super-complaint’, backed by thousands of supporters, to the OFT earlier this year and has claimed debit card surcharges were adding £265,000 a day to the cost of flights.

The OFT found considerable evidence of firms using “drip pricing” practices for surcharges online — adding payment charges to the total price only after consumers have filled in a number of web pages during their purchase — and warned the practice was spreading.

Story so far

The widespread practice of charging above-cost fees or surcharges on goods are to be banned from the end of 2012. Consumer groups have argued for some time that the public is being “ripped off” by ‘hidden’ fees on purchases. The Consumer Council in Northern Ireland said airlines — such as Ryanair and Easyjet — are among the biggest offenders.

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