Cashless Businesses and Card Surcharges

April 21, 2021

Cashless Businesses and Card Surcharges

Retailers must provide a surcharge-free option for consumer payments

Fees for making a payment on goods and services are becoming more common and, in some cases, ridiculous. 

What is going on with government departments charging $4 or $5 for large payments, like car registration, that can’t be paid for in any way except online or via a card?

And why are carparks shutting down their coin and cash payment systems and then charging us a fee for accepting our card payments?

Of course airlines and travel agents have had to modify their surcharges following thousands of complaints. Card charges of $30 or more on payments that can only be made by card are clearly a price add-on, not a surcharge recovering costs of acceptance.

A few shops and merchants have chosen to go cashless and only accept card and phone payment options. Do these businesses have the right to then charge consumers a fee, a card surcharge, for accepting those card and phone payments? 

But what does the law say about merchants who charge fees on top of their prices?

A merchant that adds a card surcharge to the price of their goods or services is supposed to provide a surcharge-free option for consumers to make a payment without incurring a charge.

This area of consumer law is overseen by the Reserve Bank (RBA) and enforced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The RBA is very clear about this issue: 

“… a merchant cannot surcharge all payment methods – it must offer at least one non-surcharged method of payment.”

Usually businesses allow consumers to pay with cash, without any surcharge or fee attached to the cash payment. But now some businesses are choosing to go ‘cashless’ and also imposing a surcharge for accepting card and phone based payments.

How is this legal?

The ACCC has taken enforcement action in relation to excessive surcharging against airlines, travel companies, hire car companies, auction houses and others. 

If the ACCC believe that a business has charged a payment surcharge which is excessive, penalties can range up to $133,200 per instance for a large business plus there are other penalties as well.

If a consumer believes they have been charged an excessive fee, they can complain to the ACCC.

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