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Most auction firms charge between 1.5% and 3% for credit card purchases, arguing the fee simply covers costs.

It is illegal for companies to make a profit from levies and consumer groups have been pushing to end ‘rip-off fees’ via a recent media campaign.

Guy Schooling, managing director of Sworders in Stansted Mountfitchet said: “Our credit card fees broadly cover our costs. We make a very small profit on UK transactions and a loss on overseas transactions. Overall they balance each other out.”

He said a campaign to label all credit card charges a rip-off is “inaccurate” because auctioneers are “not making money from credit card fees and would never set out to do this”.

He said although Sworders charges 2% plus VAT for credit card use, it does not charge for debit cards despite its bank charging 60p per transaction.

Regulation introduced in 2012 stipulates traders should only pass on the costs they incur.  Consumer group Which? made a complaint that led to an Office of Fair Trading ruling to stop excessive fees. It said credit card fees should be no more than 1.3%, with some campaigners saying around 0.6% is fair.

Higher Rate

However, many small businesses assert fees from banks and credit card providers are much higher.

A managing director of one regional auction firm said: “The consumer groups don’t understand that for smaller companies we are often charged a higher rate. There are not fixed amounts.” He added: “Customers have a choice. They can pay by cheque, debit card or cash, up to certain amounts.”

Nick Bowkett at Stroud Auction Rooms said the firm would welcome the lowering of fees by  card companies. “We get charged 3% and we charge our customers 3%. We hate charging for credit cards but the costs come off our bottom line.”

In the European Union, all card fees will become illegal in 2018, following the passing of a new directive last year.