Double jeopardy on fees?
Venues are at risk of prosecution in two ways around the same issue: booking fees and how they are applied and presented. Venues need to act immediately to change their practices. There is increasing evidence that consumers are willing to make formal complaints when they see arts and entertainment organisations flouting the Regulations, as evidenced by the volume of specific complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority.
The UK Coaltion Government rushed out very late before Easter the new guidance on the law on debit and credit card charges and surcharges which came into force on 6 April 2013. This follows on the recent Advertising Standards Authority rulings about the misleading advertising of ticket prices.
If fees are described as covering payment methods in relation to debit and credit card processing charges, then the fee charged must reflect the average true cost of processing the transaction. The consumer protection group Which? has suggested this would average 20p to 50p for debit cards and 2% for credit cards. If a venue wants to continue making a surcharge for paying by cards then they will be restricted to these low actual averages and must stop charging more immediately.
This does not stop the charging of any fees but means venues must be clear about what their fees are for. Airlines have quickly moved to calling their fees "booking" or "administration" fees and not explaining them in relation to channels or payment methods.
Combined with the Advertsiing Standards Authority rulings on what constitutes misleading advertising in relation to ticket prices, this does mean that venues - and their ticketing system suppliers - will need to change their presentation of fees and charges immediately, especially on-line. But all advertising messages, including in brochures and on flyers, need to conform straight-away.
It has long been the law that you could not advertise a price unless you could actually buy the ticket for that price and no more. Most venues achieved this by not charging through certain channels, and then unwittingly started to apply charges through all their channels, or complied by not charging for cash transactions. Unfortunately, the latter made the charge related to a payment method which has now become unlawful. An unwittinging side-effect of the law could be more venues applying their booking fees to every transaction.
Correctly, whenever a price is advertised today, it needs to be stated next to the price that booking fees or administration charges apply and the amount given, without any reference to payment method. The concept of advertising the prices in one place, and customers finding the details of the fees and charges somewhere else is wrong. For example, advertising on-line a price that can only be paid over the counter is wrong. So suddenly we are seeing prices listed with the actual booking fees "£25+£1.50 booking fee" whenever the price is listed. This is because "misleading advertising" can be prosecuted. This would be "£25+£1.50 per transaction booking fee" for a 'transaction' based fee.
The UK Coalition Government Guidance note: