Country age Retirement Fuel card surcharges labeled ‘roor’ as value trades off against inflation

Millions of dollars are being paid out in compensation under a Western Australian government scheme that is supposed to help retirees in regional areas cope with the high price of fuel.

Amid skyrocketing oil prices that have sent the cost of petrol and diesel to record highs this year, surcharges of up to 3.75 percent have been found to apply to Country Age Pensioner fuel card transactions.

The card was introduced in 2009 as part of efforts to ease cost-of-living pressures for the elderly in regional areas where cars were often the only means of transport available.

Under the scheme, which is budgeted at $122 million over four years, eligible retirees are entitled to a fuel card worth $575 per year.

fuel card
Retirees are saddled with supplements in a scheme that is supposed to help them save money. (ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

WA opposition leader Mia Davies, whose National Party instituted the fuel card, said excessive fees were unacceptable.

Fuel merchants said they were only passing on the surcharges imposed by fuel card operator WEX Motorpass.

But WEX said it didn’t believe in merchant surcharges because gas stations set fees at their discretion based on what it cost them to install a WEX processing terminal.

Problem to worsen

Former deputy chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Michael Schaper, said retailers are required by law how much they can charge customers for using cards to make payments.

He said it was illegal to charge an unreasonable amount.

“We don’t see it when we swipe our cards to get our coffee,” Dr. Schaper said.

“But it takes a whole infrastructure… necessary to process that payment to the point where it’s taken from your bank account and transferred to the company where you bought the coffee.”

A man in a suit is being interviewed in a television studio.
Michael Schaper says surcharges can add up.(News Online Brisbane)

Dr. Schaper said companies like gas stations were “price takers” when it came to card fees, which were set by the banks and financial institutions like Visa and Mastercard that processed payments.

Retailers also had to tell consumers if a surcharge applied to cards, as well as the rate.

However, he said the imposition of card surcharges was a major problem for vulnerable fixed-income groups such as retirees.

He said it was a problem that was likely to get worse as tap-and-go services and cards increasingly pushed out cash as a way to make payments.

“If you have a fixed income, like a pension or some other social security benefit, a few percentage points here, a few percentage points there… it certainly adds up,” he said.

“And if you have limited income but potentially unlimited opportunities where you have to pay a few points here and there, that really narrows the lifecycle.”

In response to questions from the ABC, the government said it would offer the fuel card service again and that the “value of the card” would be a focus of those efforts.

The surcharges are a ‘roort’

Retired Albany cab driver Darryl May said the fuel card was a lifeline.

man staring over the garden
Darryl May is doing what he can to combat the rising cost of living.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore )

The 73-year-old said he grew his own vegetables to offset the high cost of living, but relied on the fuel card to further ease the pressure.

He said the surcharges applied to the fuel card are a surcharge that can add five cents or more to the cost of a gallon of fuel.

“Why would they take a percentage? You just have to swipe your card, if it was a dollar you might say OK, but it shouldn’t be anything,” May said.

“It seems like a bit of a mess and just ripping off the retirees, plus the price of fuel as it is is high enough without paying more.”

May also said increasing the value of the card means people don’t have to choose between filling up their cars or putting food on the table.

“If that suits [the fuel card]fuel was about 80 cents a liter,” he said

“Now it’s fucking $2.30 a liter [for diesel] and it has not risen.

“It should be indexed every year.”

elderly man in chair
Darryl May says fuel card value should be increased.(ABC Great Southern: Briana Fiore)

The Reserve Bank of Australia insists merchants have the right to recover card acceptance fees through a surcharge, but experts have warned that this doesn’t mean it’s fair or ethical.

Research shows that surcharges vary significantly across the state, where dozens of participating outlets impose levies ranging from 1.5 percent to 3.75 percent.

Others did not know if a surcharge applied, while some incorrectly suggested that a surcharge did not apply.

Consumer Protection, part of WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, said monitoring charges was not part of its job.

The Department for Transport is facilitating the arrangement with the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development and said it was up to the Reserve Bank of Australia to track surcharges and check whether outlets had broken the rules when setting their fees.

Regional Economic Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the contract for the future delivery of the scheme and related services has been put out to tender.

“The tender review process is underway, the results of which will affect the delivery of the card,” Ms MacTiernan said.

She said the outcome of the process and the value of the card would be considered in the 2023 bilateral budget.

Leave a Comment