[LINK] Payment Surcharge Price-Gouge Stopped

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Fri Dec 18 17:12:01 AEDT 2020

SMH has been charging 0.9% for payments by both credit-card (which is an
appallingly insecure design and costs a lot to operate) and debit-card
(which is effective and inexpensive - although there are endeavours to
undermine its security through convenient, but unauthorised, payment).

SMH also precludes payment by bank transfer or any other means.

The RBA guidelines permit a materially excessive fee of 0.5%, and the
terms are so vague that it doesn't matter whether the payment uses the
(expensive) credit-card-oriented Visa system or cost-effective
alternatives, and is doesn't matter what the actual cost-profile of the
organisation is - they can still get away with 0.5%.

In early Sep, I submitted a complaint to ACCC, about the over-the-top
price-gouge in relation to card payments, esp. payment by debit-card.

I was given the bum's rush by ACCC not once, but twice;  so I wrote
directly to the Commissioner, and included the draft letter to the
relevant person at the RBA.  (Only a small amount of knowledge is needed
about payment systems and the relevant softish Code and associated moral
suasion;  then it's pretty easy to use keywords to track contacts down).

That resulted in another ACCC complaints person being forced to say
they'd handle it.

That all happened in early-to-mid September, and I'd heard nothing more.

Then, on Monday, SMH sent me (as a subscriber, not as a complainee) the
email below, saying payment surcharge fees are, as of 15 Dec, 0.5% for
credit-cards and zero for debit-cards.

I tried to check with the ACCC about the still-outstanding complaint.
(I actually wanted them to have the opportunity to say that they had
contacted SMH about the matter).

The answer was one of the most useless pieces of time-wasting
bureaucratese that I've ever seen.  Sub-text:  'Stop bothering me.
My 6-month timeframe to address complaints isn't over yet'.

However, it would appear that a sustained effort to force the regulator
to do its job has resulted in a communication from the regulator to the
regulatee, and, on mature reconsideration, the price-gouge being stopped
voluntarily by the regulatee.

The public *can* win.  The public just needs to be modestly
well-informed, persistent, and, when necessary, just a little vicious.


Subject: Important information about your subscription
Date: Mon, 14 Dec 2020 21:31:17 -0600
From: Herald Subscriptions <subscriptions at email.smh.com.au>
Reply-To: Fairfax Media
<reply-fe541679776c0475701d-1490788_HTML-803238-10510523-91 at email.fairfaxmedia.com.au>
To: Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au

We're lowering our payment surcharge fees.

Dear Roger,
We're writing to inform you that from today, Tuesday December 15, we
will be reducing our card payment surcharge.
Dependent on the card type, the below surcharge will now apply to your
subscription payments:

  * Debit card: no fee will be charged.
  * Credit card: 0.5%.

If you would like to change your card details, simply log into My

You can update your payment method at any time.
If you have any further questions, please contact our Customer Service team.
Kind regards,

The Sydney Morning Herald Subscriber Services Team


Roger Clarke                            mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
T: +61 2 6288 6916   http://www.xamax.com.au  http://www.rogerclarke.com

Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA

Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Law            University of N.S.W.
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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