Hidden web charges in the crosshairs as travel targeted for customer rights clean up

The government will today publish a consultation on changes to consumer protection rules aimed at outlawing opt-out tick boxes which automatically add ancillary services to online purchases.

The changes, which will also outlaw 0871-type premium rate numbers for handling consumer queries, will bring the UK into line with the European Consumer Rights Directive adopted last October.

However, the government is expected to delay a linked consultation on rules limiting debit card charges until later this month.

Restrictions on card charges were announced in December and a consultation originally promised in the New Year after the government pledged the UK would pioneer a ban on “excessive charges”.

The new measures apply across “distance purchases”, online and by phone, but are specifically directed at online travel retailers and airlines.

Consumer affairs minister Norman Lamb said: “Many people have been ripped off at some point by hidden online charges while booking a holiday. The Consumer Rights Directive will put an end to certain bad business practices.”

However, not every article of the directive applies to the travel sector. The rules on tick boxes, phone hotlines and card charges will, but travel has been excluded from a new right to a 14-day cooling-off period following a purchase.

Abta fears members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will attempt to extend this to travel through changes to the Package Travel Directive soon to be published.

Provisions of the Directive must be incorporated into UK law by 2014 at the latest. The Directive states: “Traders who operate hotlines allowing the consumer to contact them in relation to the contract will not be able to charge more than the basic phone rate.”

The action on card charges followed a super complaint by consumer affairs body Which? to the Office of Fair Trading. Which? argued debit card charges were adding £265,000 a day to the cost of flights.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “We’re surprised the consultation to ban excessive debit and credit card charges has still not been published.

“We hope the government sticks to its promise to ban these charges by the end of the year.”

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