Thursday, 28 November 2013

Money, money, money – BEUC on recent EU proposals related to consumer payments

On 18 November the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted on the Commission’s proposal regarding bank accounts. The new rules aim to increase bank fees´ transparency, facilitate switching between bank accounts and make opening of a basic bank account simpler and affordable for anyone (currently 10% Europeans do not have a bank account). BEUC in its press releases criticizes certain developments with regard to the proposal: suspension of a rule that would create a system for automatic redirection  of payments from the former to the new account; Member States will need to harmonize terminology for only 10 services linked to a bank account and not all of them, which will not serve the aim of assuring full transparency. (Bank account plans: Timid steps towards more transparency)
 
This week BEUC evaluated two new Commission’s proposals that intend to increase consumer protection on the financial services market. First, the proposal for a Regulation on interchange fees for card-based payment transactions was positively evaluated by BEUC, even if they argue that it should remain a minimum harmonization area, so that the Member States are allowed to protect consumers more (by reducing the interchange fee caps, e.g., below the suggested 0,2% or 0,3% level). BEUC expresses also its preference for an EU-wide ban on surcharges. It argues also for the choice to be left to consumers as to what payment brand they want to use at the point of sale. The consumer should also be able to decide freely whether or not he needs two or more different payment brands on his card, telecommunication or IT device, etc. In general, the new framework would be a positive development for consumers potentially limiting the monopoly of two credit card companies that dominate the payments market in the EU (Mastercard and Visa), often prevailing over national debit cards that are cheaper to use for consumers and merchants in comparison to international cards.
 
Second, the proposal for the new Payment Services Directive was assessed by BEUC. BEUC again argues here for these rules to have a minimum harmonization standard, so that the Member States could maintain stricter rules they already have in favor of consumer protection. Electronic money should fall within the scope of payment services regulated by the Directive. The EU-wide ban on surcharges is required by BEUC also with respect to these rules, since surcharges are perceived as having failed in steering consumers towards more efficient and cheaper means of payment. The payment service providers should refund any unauthorized transactions from the consumers’ accounts on the same day they have become aware thereof (currently the obligation of ‘immediate’ refund is interpreted differently across the EU) and consumers should be granted an unconditional refund right for direct debit transactions. This would give consumers control over his direct debit payments and provide easy redress instruments in case of fraudulent payments or undelivered goods/services. In order to protect consumers against payment frauds and incidents thereof should be reported regularly to national and European authorities.
 
See BEUC's website for more detailed assessment.

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