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Is the SU’s transaction fee unlawful?

A student has complained ‘hidden’ transaction fees of 34p per purchase of a ticket from the Students’ Union website may be unlawful, though the Union is defending the fee.

Joe Williams, an MA Modern and Contemporary writing student, complained to the Union about their surcharges after the SU posted on the LCR ticket exchange Facebook group telling students not to resell their tickets for greater than face value.

“It was only when someone else in the comments above me said ‘If the price of a ticket is the price of a ticket, then why do you charge a 34p booking fee?’,” Joe told Concrete. “Every time I’d paid for a ticket I had noticed the charge and thought is that still allowed?”

Under laws introduced by the government on 13 January 2018, it is “unlawful for retailers to charge additional fees when someone uses a particular credit or debit card, or other payment systems like PayPal, to make a purchase.”

According to the government, this ensures consumers can be confident that there won’t be any nasty surprises, and they won’t be penalised for wanting to pay in a particular way.

Joe complained to the Union and sought a refund for ticketed events he had previously purchased believing the system was unlawful. However, in emails seen by Concrete, the SU have defended the charge as one they “levy to cover the cost of upkeep on our website, hardware, staff time.

“We make no profit from it at all, I appreciate that the term transaction fee makes it sound financial and so we have taken your feedback on board and will get that changed to read booking fee,” an SU representative told Joe, denying him a refund.

“It’s just rubbish,” said Joe about the SU’s response. “None of that makes sense.”

“Obviously for every transaction that goes through, they have to pay this money. But they’re unfairly putting it on us, I mean if we have to subsidise that bill, where does it stop? Are they going to start asking us to chip on for the DJ? For the heating and water bill?”

Joe continued: “The £4 tickets aren’t even cost price, so it should just be they pay for it from the £4. If they put [the transaction fee] in the ticket price, and made it £4.30, I suppose that would be fair.”

The law states the surcharge ban is enforced by Trading Standards who will have the power to take civil enforcement action against traders who breach the regulations. It will also entitle customers to receive a refund of any unlawful surcharge they have paid and enable them, if necessary, to take legal action to recover any such surcharge.

The Union have told Joe, however, told Joe they did a lot of work when the change of law came in.

A representative said: “I can safely say that it is not illegal, companies are able to charge booking fees to help cover costs of running and operating businesses as otherwise we would lose money by operating a box office.”

“There’s no evidence of that,” Joe alleges, adding that he couldn’t understand contradictions in the SU’s reply.

“The SU’s reply was pretty confused. At one point they say they don’t use any of this 34p to pay for the banking, but on the website when you pay it does say that some of this money is used to cover fees the Union is charged to process the payment.”

“So already the email is differing from the website, because they said out and ot that none of it is spent on processing fees, which is rubbish.”

Joe told Concrete he considered contacting Norfolk Trading Standards to investigate, but has not yet.

“The question is, is it legal or is it not? I mean, maybe it is [legal] and it’s just naughty, or I think it actually isn’t legal from the definitions I’ve seen on the government website. The broader question is whether it’s right or wrong to get students to foot the bill.

“It’s unfair to put it on the student, which is why I disagree with it.”

Concrete contacted the Students’ Union for comment, but they were not able to reply by the time of press.

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January 2022
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