From Saturday you should no longer be charged a fee for opting to pay by credit or debit card – but companies will still be able to add booking or admin fees as long as they also apply to other forms of payment.
The change is good news on the surface for consumers, who will no longer have to pay fees just because they're paying on plastic. Yet there are fears some companies will raise prices or introduce new service charges as a result, while in other cases – such as when settling a tax bill with HMRC – you may no longer be able to pay on a card at all.
Here's our full Q&A on what the changes mean, what some firms have said they'll do and how to report the rule-breakers.
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How are the rules changing?
Under current rules, which came into force in 2013, companies should only charge you what it costs them to process a debit or credit card payment. However, consumers can still face hefty charges, with fees typically about 2% and on some smaller transactions accounting for as much as 20% of the bill.
From Saturday 13 January all surcharges for paying via credit or debit card will be banned – this includes payment methods linked to your card, such as PayPal or Apple Pay. Companies are still allowed to levy a surcharge if you opt to pay by cash or cheque.
Banning credit card fees should make a real difference on some purchases. For example, British Airways currently charges a 1% fee of up to £20 on credit cards, Ryanair charges 2% on credit cards and the DVLA a £2.50 fee on credit cards – from Saturday, these charges won't apply. (And if you're about to book with a firm that charges fees, it may be worth waiting.)
The change is coming in as part of a law setting out new payment regulations. The regulations are based on an EU directive which will apply throughout the EU – but as this is a UK law change the new rules will continue to apply after Brexit.
Won't companies just raise prices or introduce new service fees?
It's quite possible – many rely on the current charges to cover the cost of processing card payments, and they could look to replace the fees in a couple of different ways:
- Overall prices could rise. It's hard to say until after Saturday if this will happen – and of course it may be hard to pin any price rises afterwards on this specific change. But it's something to watch out for.
A spokesperson for Flybe, for example, told us that the airline does not believe the ban "is in the best interests of consumers" and added: "The change will inevitably result in price increases as businesses seek to recoup the associated costs they must incur that includes processing usage and covering fraudulent transactions. This will disadvantage the majority of those who now choose to rather pay for goods and services by cash or with a debit card."
- Companies may charge new service fees to ALL customers. Firms can do this as long as the fees apply no matter which method of payment you use. There's one big example of this so far – takeaway service Just Eat, which used to charge 50p for debit or credit card payments and has now scrapped that but introduced a new 50p service charge, which applies whether you pay by cash or card. Others may follow – though some firms, eg, Flybe and Premier Inn, have confirmed they have no plans to do this.
Any additional fees should always be made clear to you before you book, so you know the final price before you pay.
Will some places stop accepting card payments after the ban?
We've checked with some of the big names and the majority have said they will keep accepting credit and debit cards. But it's quite possible smaller retailers and other firms will stop accepting credit cards – the Federation of Small Businesses has warned "many small firms will struggle to absorb the costs associated with card payments".
Crucially, HMRC has said it will no longer allow people to settle their tax bill with a personal credit card – which it used to allow for a 0.5% fee. It will continue to accept debit cards, as well as direct debits and bank transfers.
A spokesperson said: "We will no longer be accepting personal credit card payments from 13 January as new rules mean that we can no longer pass on what our bank charge for processing a credit card payment. It would be unfair to expect other taxpayers to pick up this cost."
Some firms still seem to be getting to grips with the changes. We were contacted by two MoneySavers who'd booked trips with Iglu Cruise and Planet Cruise (part of the same company, Iglu.com). They were initially told that after 13 January they would have to pay their remaining balance via bank transfer, or alternatively pay a £25 handling fee for all other payment methods including cards.
The company has now backtracked. A spokesperson said: "We originally considered adding a charge for customers paying over the phone, in order to fund an accounts team who would be taking these manual payments. However, after consultations last week with ABTA [the Association of British Travel Agents], we have been advised that asking customers to pay for phone payment isn't viable."
It will instead ask customers to pay deposits via credit card and their remaining balance by bank transfer or cheque, or their whole payment by card if the final balance is due immediately – all without incurring any fee.
Can I pay my council tax using a credit card with no fee?
Many councils currently allow you to pay by credit card, but some charge a fee – for example the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames charges 1.65%.
However, from Saturday these fees should disappear. So you should be able to pay by credit card without being charged a fee (which is what the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is doing), or the council may stop taking credit cards altogether – contact your council to check.
In theory, this means if you have a cashback or rewards credit card you may be able to earn cashback or rewards for paying your council tax bill. Make sure you can pay the card off IN FULL if you do this though.
Which companies does the ban apply to?
As the new rules are based on an EU directive, the ban on card surcharges applies to any transaction when the bank(s) of the consumer and the retailer are based within the EU, or Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway. Bear in mind though that while in the UK the ban has been extended to payment methods such as PayPal and Apple Pay, there's no guarantee this will be the case elsewhere.
If a retailer's bank is outside of these countries you may be charged a surcharge, but the company is only allowed to charge what it costs it to process the transaction.
In practice the ban will apply to many companies, and it will also apply to councils and Government organisations such as HM Revenue & Customs and the DVLA.
If a company tries to charge you a fee simply because you are choosing to pay by card, you can refuse and complain to the company saying this is not allowed. You can also report it to Trading Standards – and let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org as we'll be keeping close tabs on any firms that flout the rules.
If you are wrongly charged a fee, you can complain to the company and ask it to refund the charge.
Can companies still set a minimum card payment?
Yes, they can still set one of these.
What about business credit cards?
The new law only applies to consumers and so businesses CAN still be charged fees, but as is the case currently, this should only be the amount it costs to process the transaction.
The surcharge rules are based on how you pay not who you are, though. So if you pay with a business credit card you can be charged extra, but if you're a business owner using your personal credit credit you can't be charged the surcharge.
'Hopefully it will mean an end to surprise charges'
Helen Saxon, chief product analyst at MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "Scrapping card surcharges may be good news – hopefully it will mean an end to surprise charges at the end of a purchase, making it easier for people to compare prices of hotels, concert tickets and more.
"However, it may be that we see the amount that used to be charged in credit card fees popping up elsewhere, for example in booking or transaction fees, or even in the price of goods or services."