Surcharge on card payments is a cheeky state of affairs

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Surcharge on card payments is a cheeky state of affairs

Retailers do it, but many municipalities are the worst culprits, slapping on a charge of between 3% and 5%

Consumer journalist

It’s always annoying when a service provider flouts the law, but doubly so, with a thick layer of irony, when it’s a state entity.
Such as consumers having the post office boxes they rented stuffed with advertising flyers by post office employees – for a fee paid by the distributors – despite them exerting their Consumer Protection Act (CPA) right to indicate “No Spam!” on those boxes.
That was in the early CPA days.
Sometimes the state entities opt for the “but we don’t have to comply with that regulation; this is the one which applies to us” defence.
For years I’ve taken retailers to task for charging consumers a surcharge, usually 5%, if they pay by card, to cover their (the company’s) bank charges, which is not only a colossal cheek but a contravention of the CPA, their merchant’s agreement with the bank which supplies their point-of-sale machine, as well as Payment Association of SA (Pasa) rules.
But many of South Africa’s municipalities, including Joburg, Cape Town and Durban, are the worst culprits, imposing a surcharge of between 3% and 5% on credit card payments of more than set amounts – R2,500 in the case of Durban’s municipality – via their payment partners at supermarkets and the like.
But perhaps not for much longer.
Pasa has confirmed to In Your Corner that when it took up the matter with the municipalities that are imposing this surcharge, they argued that the Local Municipal Systems Act entitled them to do so.
Not so, says Pasa’s legal team, and it has raised the matter with National Treasury, the primary supervisor of municipalities. 
“We have previously had a number of direct engagements with metro municipalities to raise the issue,” said Pasa CEO Walter Volker. Clearly to no avail.
“National Treasury has confirmed that they are now busy with an enquiry into this and we’d prefer not to disclose the names of the municipalities until they have concluded the enquiry.”TV licence payments - special interest required
Maggie Desouche of Cape Town wrote to In Your Corner, pointing out that the SABC charges 10% interest per month, up to a maximum of 100% per annum for late payments, which is illegal in terms of the National Credit Act.
“The NCA states that the maximum charge is 2% per month up to a maximum of 24% per annum for late payments,” she said.
Responding, audience liaison officer Rudy Swartz said payment of a television licence is not an SABC requirement but a statutory obligation in terms of the Broadcasting Act  and the TV licence regulations under the act. 
“This piece of legislation stipulates that no person may use or have a television set in his/her possession without at all times having a valid, paid-up TV licence issued by the SABC,” he said. And the fees are payable in advance.
Since unpaid licence fees are not “credit” extended to a defaulter, the fees are not subject to legislation regulating consumer credit, he said.
Right, so consumers are made to pay interest on late payment for a service they have yet to receive. Something doesn’t seem quite right with that picture. But it’s all perfectly legal, apparently.
“In the event of payment being made late, the Broadcasting Act provides for  a penalty of 10% of the annual fee [R26.50] for every month or part thereof that payment is received late,” Swartz said, “to a maximum of 100% per annum. 
“If left unpaid, the monthly penalties result in the fee doubling after 10 months, but then it does not increase any further year on year.
“Failure or a refusal to pay one’s licence fees does not result in ‘bad debt’ but, rather, entails criminal contravention of an act of parliament.”
That’s an interesting point, considering how many South Africans choose to criminally flout the licence requirement.
Desouche argued that she’d always been among the small minority of South Africans who pay their TV licences in full and on time every year – said to be only about one in four – but hadn’t done so this current year because she didn’t get her renewal notice in time.
The Broadcasting Act has an answer for that, too.
“The act requires the SABC to send out renewal notices to TV licence holders,” Swartz said, “but it contains the following provision: ‘Notwithstanding this requirement, licence holders are required to apply for the renewal of a television licence despite non-receipt of a reminder notice to renew a television licence.’
“In other words, the onus rests on the holder of a television licence to renew same in good time without any prompting from the SABC.”
The same applies to motor licence renewals.
After all that, Desouche has since been informed that the “special interest” she’d been charged on her late forward payment had been totally scrapped. • If you intend to get rid of your TV for some reason – selling or donating it, or emigration – make sure you notify the SABC in the fairly onerous way that it prescribes, or you’ll be held liable for the licence fees for that set until you do so.
For more info on that, call Customer Services on 011 330 9555, email:tvlic.info@sabc.co.za or visit the website:www.tvlic.co.za.  CONTACT WENDY: 
Email: consumer@knowler.co.za
Twitter: @wendyknowler#SHELFIE
NOT SO FAST: A reminder to Cape Town establishments about what the Liquor Act states: “Free drinking water, which includes tap water, must be made easily available at all on-consumption liquor outlets to the patrons.” So if it can’t be tap water, you’ll have to start supplying free bottled water.

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