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Laws need updating to support move to allow card payment for all transactions

The House commerce committee on Tuesday discussed credit card charges ahead of a new decree mandating all businesses accept card payments, which is due to come into effect this coming Sunday.

The finance ministry decree was approved by the cabinet in June and will oblige doctors, lawyers and retail businesses among others to accept plastic money in a bid to fight tax evasion.

Disy MP Kyriacos Hadjiyianni, who leads the committee, said members discussed in depth the management of costs incurred or passed on to consumers through electronic payments, and identified gaps in existing legislation that need to be supplemented.

He added that the committee will draft and submit a bill aiming to create a mechanism to which consumers can turn in the event of such attempts at abuse. This would make it even harder for traders to pass on these charges to the consumer, he said.

Asked about the monopoly that exists in the provision of card services, Hadjiyianni said that precisely because it is a monopoly, the supervisory mechanisms need to be strengthened both by the central bank and by the consumer protection service.

Akel’s Costas Costa said that while the decision to make card payments a mandatory option is correct as it will bolster efforts to fight tax evasion, it still leaves consumers exposed to extra charges on certain items like cigarettes, phone cards, milk and newspapers.

The excuse for the extra charges, he explained, is that the profit margin for these items is so small that traders end up spending it on commissions to card service companies.

There are no provisions in current legislation for punishing those who illegally impose extra charges for card use, Costa said, adding that Akel has raised the issue with the consumer protection service and the committee head.

The above was confirmed by consumer protection service head Antonis Ioannou, who said it is vital that the service, along with the finance ministry and the central bank prepare a proposal that will close any gaps in the legislation,

This is a provision the government should have arranged for before approving the decree, he said.

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