ACCC takes action against Europcar for excessive card payment surcharges

25 July 2018

The ACCC has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court against CLA Trading Pty Ltd (trading as Europcar) for allegedly charging excessive credit and debit card payment surcharges, in breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

The ACCC alleges that Europcar customers who used Visa or MasterCard credit cards during July and August 2017 were charged fees above what it cost Europcar to accept those payments.

The ACCC also alleges excessive payment surcharges were imposed by Europcar on customers using Visa or MasterCard debit cards between July and 5 November 2017.

It is alleged that Europcar charged surcharges of up to 1.43 per cent, although the rates varied over time and by the type of card. The ACCC alleges that the amount overcharged ranged from at least 0.18 percentage points to as much as 0.65 percentage points for different cards and time periods.

Europcar also did not reduce its surcharges despite being notified by its bank in July 2017 of the actual cost to accept payments by these cards. Instead, it is alleged Europcar continued to charge customers in excess of this amount, in breach of the law.

“The alleged conduct by Europcar in relation to its surcharge rates is particularly concerning, given we will allege that it was well aware of its own cost of acceptance from at least July 2017,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“Businesses must not charge customers more than it costs them to process a card payment.”

“The ACCC’s action serves as a warning that the ACCC is paying close attention to those businesses who seek to overcharge customers making payments by credit or debit cards,” Mr Sims said.

The ACCC’s proceedings only relate to outlets which are owned and operated by Europcar and not those run by franchisees. In Australia, 96 out of 126 Europcar outlets are owned and operated by Eurpocar.

This is the first litigation the ACCC has commenced under the excessive surcharging provisions.

Background

Europcar is classified as a large business under the excessive surcharging provisions. The ban took effect from 1 September 2016 for large businesses and from 1 September 2017 for other businesses.

The excessive payment surcharges law provides that businesses can only pass on to customers what it costs them to process a payment (cost of acceptance). For example, if the cost of acceptance for Visa credit is 1 per cent, a business can only add a surcharge of 1 per cent for customers who pay by Visa credit card.

Banks and other payment processors are required to provide businesses with Merchant Statements which clearly set out the business’ cost of acceptance for each payment scheme. This requirement was introduced to assist businesses to easily determine their costs of accepting card payments.

In April 2016, the Federal Court declared a number of terms in Europcar Australia’s 2013 standard rental agreement to be unfair, and therefore void, and ordered the company to pay a penalty of $100,000 for making false or misleading representations about consumers’ liability in the event of vehicle damage.

Release number: 
137/18
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