British shops admit charging handling fee for new currency

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The Independent Online

Some of Britain's biggest retailers have been accused of profiteering by penalising shoppers who want to pay in euros.

Some of Britain's biggest retailers have been accused of profiteering by penalising shoppers who want to pay in euros.

As 12 European countries embraced the single currency yesterday, some British stores were charging handling fees of up to 8 per cent.

Last week, the Europe Minister, Peter Hain, called on British shops to take the new currency, and a third of the country's leading retailers – including Virgin, Dixons, British Home Stores and Marks and Spencer – have said they will accept it. But WH Smith was charging a fee of 8 per cent yesterday while Dixons was offering conversions 2p below the official exchange rate.

Ian Taylor, a pro-European Tory MP, said: "The euro is here to stay and profiteering from it will be bad for business for whoever tries it. The whole purpose of them accepting the euro is to encourage people to shop with them. Penalising customers with low rates seems counter-productive. It will give them an extremely bad reputation."

Simon Buckby, the campaign director for Britain in Europe, said: "Although Britain is not yet in the euro, the euro is already here in Britain. This is just one of the costs of being outside the new currency. It is a sterling shopping tax." But the retailers insisted they were doing nothing more than treating the euro as another foreign currency.

A spokesman for Dixons, whose chairman, Sir Stanley Kalms, is known for his anti-euro stance, said: "Stanley's views about Europe are independent of his position as chairman. A standard administration charge is common across most retailers.

"If you go to a bureau de change you would pay a handling charge. The euro is a foreign currency and most tourists would choose to make their exchange in bulk. Obviously, there is cost to the retailer accepting foreign currency when they go through the process of converting the money back into sterling."

He said Dixons would be accepting the euro at stores such as the Oxford Street branch where there was a considerable level of tourist trade. Yesterday, the shop was offering conversion at 59p compared with the 61p official rate.

A spokesman for WH Smith said: "There is a handling charge as there would be for any currency."

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