A group of trade bodies representing tens of thousands of businesses across the retail and hospitality sectors in the UK are appealing for Parliament to intervene to protect British businesses and consumers from the mounting cost of anti-competitive practices in card payments.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), and UKHospitality say immediate action must be taken to tackle soaring card fees which add to the price of goods and services.
The call comes as the UK’s Payment Systems Regulator consultation on its five-year Strategy closes today. The group says that the national regulator – an independent arm of the Government, accountable to MPs – is failing to meet its statutory objectives and that its new Strategy is a 5 year license to deliver very little at the taxpayers’ expense.
Since the pandemic, British businesses and their customers have become more dependent on card payments than ever before, with more customers shopping online or paying by card in store. Cards now constitute more than 80% of UK retail sales, with Visa and Mastercard accounting for 99% of card transactions. Retailers spent £1.3 billion in 2020 to accept payments from their customers and ultimately these costs, equivalent to more than £46 per household, will be passed onto the consumer.
BRC, BIRA, ACS, FSB and UKHospitality came together in a similar joint call last year but no action has so far been taken by the Regulator. This time the trade associations are calling on Parliament and its Treasury Committee to urgently intervene. Nearly 40 cross-party MPs have already written to the Regulator this year calling for robust regulatory measures on card fees.
Last year, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Visa and Mastercard interchange fees are unlawful. The UK should not continue to allow such fees and the Regulator must directly address anti-competitive card fees in its future Strategy.
Andrew Cregan, Head of Finance Policy, British Retail Consortium says: “Our national regulator is proposing vague and distant goals for tackling today’s payment problems and it’s far too little, too late. The Treasury Select Committee should conduct an appraisal of the PSR’s effectiveness and the value of this Strategy.”
David Sheen, Public Affairs Director, UKHospitality adds: “This so-called strategy from the regulator does little to address the distortions in the payment market that results in higher costs for business and higher prices for consumers. We need a clear plan of action to introduce more competition and oversight to the market. This should be a priority as the country recovers from its unprecedented shock, and where card payments have become even more central to our economy.”
Jeff Moody, Commercial Director, British Independent Retailers’ Association comments: “Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the UK Government and its regulator have yet to address new opportunities for anti-competitive behaviour and abuse of the card schemes dominant market position in Europe’s largest card payments market. The PSR is tackling the area of future Payments but we also need to focus on the current payments issue where card-based transactions constitute at least 80% of retail payments today.”
Martin McTague, National Vice-Chair, Federation of Small Businesses adds: “With the shift to contactless accelerating, card transaction charges are weighing heavily on small businesses as they look to recover from 18 months of disruption. The Payment Systems Regulator should be doing more to address the surging fees charged by a handful of providers. Interchange regulation means little if card companies have free rein to increase other fees, fees which often hit the small firms that make-up 99% of our business community. Greater parliamentary scrutiny of the PSR’s work should help to spur the regulator to set more measurable, concrete aims.”
James Lowman, Chief Executive, Association of Convenience Stores says: “Convenience retailers play a crucial role in offering customers a breadth of payment options and providing access to cash for consumers in communities right across the country. The Payment Systems Regulator is right to prioritise securing long-term access to cash through its work with the LINK ATM network and encouraging innovation to reduce processing costs for retailers, which are ultimately shared with customers too.”
He concludes: “The PSR is now an established regulator and must act to prevent excessive increases in card scheme fees for debit and credit cards. The card acquirer review is a positive step but needs implementing so that retailers can shop around and switch card payments providers, securing the best deals for them and their customers.”