The Federal Court has ordered CLA Trading Pty Ltd (trading as Europcar) to pay $350,000 in penalties for charging excessive credit and debit card payment surcharges in breach of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Europcar admitted that, between July and August 2017, Europcar charged Visa and MasterCard credit users fees that were higher than Europcar’s costs to accept payments from those credit cards.
It also admitted that, between July and 5 November 2017, the company had charged excessive surcharges on Visa and MasterCard debit cards.
“Europcar imposed excessive surcharges on transactions affecting 63,012 customers, and over-charged more than $67,000,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.
“As a large and sophisticated business, Europcar was well aware of its obligations to comply with the law prohibiting excessive surcharges.”
“Europcar also knew its actual cost to accept payments by these cards from at least July 2017, when it was notified by its bank. Despite this, Europcar continued to impose excessive surcharges,” Mr Keogh said.
The amount of each excessive surcharge charged by Europcar was relatively small, at an average of just over $1 per customer.
“While the amount per customer was small, Europcar imposed these charges on thousands of consumer transactions which quickly added up to a considerable amount,” Mr Keogh said.
“This decision is a warning to businesses that choose to impose surcharges. The onus is on them to get it right. A failure to comply with these laws may result in significant penalties.”
The ACCC instituted proceedings against Europcar in July 2018 for breaches of the excessive surcharging laws. Europcar subsequently admitted liability, and the ACCC and Europcar made joint submissions to the Federal Court that Europcar should be ordered to pay a penalty of $350,000 and a proportion of the ACCC’s legal costs.
Europcar reviewed its surcharging practices to ensure its compliance with the excessive surcharging laws from 6 November 2017 onwards.
Europcar also provided refunds to the majority of customers that it identified as having been charged excessive surcharges between July and November 2017.
Europcar is a global vehicle rental brand with operations deployed in over 140 countries and territories. The Europcar brand is operated by CLA Trading Pty Ltd, trading as Europcar. The Europcar Australia vehicle rental network consists of a total of 126 rental outlets in total.
The ACCC’s proceedings only relate to the 96 outlets which are owned and operated by Europcar and not those run by franchisees.
Between July and November 2017, Europcar charged surcharges of up to 1.43 per cent, although the rates varied over time and by the type of card. The company admitted that these surcharges were higher than what it was being charged by its bank for accepting these payments. Europcar’s surcharges exceeded what it was legally permitted to charge customers by between 0.17 and 0.62 percentage points, depending on the card and the date the surcharge was applied.
The ban on excessive surcharges 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.
Further information on excessive surcharging is available at Credit, debit and prepaid card surcharges.
The ACCC has also issued infringement notices for imposing excessive payment surcharges to RedBalloon in November 2017, Cruisin Motorhomes in July 2018, Fitness First in September 2018 and Lloyds Auctioneers in October 2018.
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