Ministers call time on hidden card fees and rip-off phone lines

Boon for consumers as Government gets tough on big business and costly tricks of the trade

Excessive credit card surcharges, premium-rate telephone lines for customer complaints and hidden extra costs on online sales are to be outlawed in a crackdown on sharp practice by big businesses.

Ministers will set out plans next week to boost consumer rights by insisting customers know more clearly exactly what they are paying for goods and services. They will promise to end the practice of adding an automatic levy when a credit or debit card is used to pay for a holiday, an air or train journey, a concert ticket or a visit to the theatre or cinema.

The levy can add £8 to the price of an air flight or 75p to the cost of seeing a film – and the surcharge is often levied after customers have clicked through a succession of web payment pages. Ministers are proposing to allow retailers to add only the actual cost of processing a card payment, which can be as little as 10p.

Companies will be prevented from using premium-rate phone numbers, such as those beginning with 0870 or 0845, for customers with queries or complaints. As such numbers can cost up to £1 per minute, callers can rack up hefty charges just waiting to speak to someone – and even bigger bills if calling from a mobile phone.

The Government will introduce new measures to ensure they are charged nothing more than the basic rate for calls. A booking trick used by many travel companies to increase prices paid by online shoppers will also be targeted. Many firms automatically add the cost of extra services, such as insurance or access to airport lounges, unless customers "untick" a box on their booking form.

In future, customers will have to take an active decision by ticking a box asking for extra services. Other moves will entitle customers to more information about refunds, cancellations and delivery times – whether they are buying from a shop, online, at a fair or from a door-to-door salesman.

The plans were drawn up as part of the European consumer rights directive, which comes into force next year. On Monday, Norman Lamb, the Consumer Affairs Minister, will announce a consultation on implementing the directive in Britain. It comes eight months after the Treasury announced its determination to stamp out hidden credit card surcharges.

Mr Lamb said: "This is an area where Europe can make a big impact on our day-to-day lives. Many people will have been ripped off at some point by hidden online charges while booking a holiday, premium rate helplines when returning a purchase or extra credit card fees if you don't use your debit card. The consumer rights directive will end certain bad business practices and help consumers make well-informed decisions when buying products or services."

He said the moves would also see traders operate with clearer rules and responsibilities – and help ensure those who treat their customers fairly were not put at a disadvantage with less scrupulous competitors.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of the consumer group Which?, said: "Protecting consumers from hidden online charges, cracking down on rip-off premium-rate customer helplines and improving delivery services are actions Which? welcomes.

"Strengthening consumer rights is better for businesses and benefits the economy."

Customers will have to make an active decision by ticking a box asking for extra services

Sting in the tail: The extra costs

Phone numbers

Ryanair charged customers £1 a minute from a landline, while Wizz Air charged 77p and BMIbaby 65p. An analysis of 34 banks, insurers and energy firms in May found that 27 offered free numbers for new customers, and six for existing ones.

Automatic extras

National Express, Saga and Travelodge are among firms that add travel insurance to bookings unless travellers "untick" a box. Travelsphere levied £27 per person on a cruise for an ESTA permit to enter the US. It costs £9.

Credit card surcharges

Surcharges can add up to one third to the cost of the cheapest Ryanair and easyJet flights, while Thomas Cook adds up to 2.5 per cent for credit card bookings – equivalent to £50 on its most exotic destinations.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
Life and Style
food + drink
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Technical Consultant Configuration, SQL, SQL Server

£55000 - £65000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Technical Cons...

Lead Business Analyst - Banking - London - £585

£525 - £585 per day: Orgtel: Lead Business Analyst - Investment Banking - Lond...

Commercial IT Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Commercial IT Solicitor - London We h...

Business Analyst / Project Manager - Financial Services

£40000 - £45000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: One of the mos...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home