Following the entry into force of the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) on 1 April 2015 with concurrent competition powers, HM Treasury has now announced which bodies it will designate as super-complainants to the PSR, mirroring the super-complaints regime in place for the Financial Conduct Authority.
On 28 September 2015, HM Treasury announced that it had written to Citizens Advice, Which?, Federation of Small Businesses, and Consumer Council of Northern Ireland to inform them of its intention to designate them as super-complainants. It has also invited Age UK to make an application for designation as a super-complainant.
As a super-complainant, these bodies have the right to make a super-complaint to the PSR if they consider that there are features of a market in the UK for payment systems that are, or may be, significantly damaging the interests of consumers. On receipt of a super-complaint, the PSR will have a duty to respond within 90 days and must justify any cases it chooses not to progress.
In contrast, while any corporate body or individual can complain to the PSR, there is no obligation on the PSR to consider any such complaint, or to provide a response within a given timetable.
Why is this important?
Super-complaints made to competition and consumer enforcement authorities have often resulted in significant changes to markets, to the benefit of consumers.
For example, following a super-complaint from Which? to the Office of Fair Trading (the predecessor to the Competition and Markets Authority), 12 airlines agreed to include debit card surcharges in the headline price for flights and to make any credit card surcharges more transparent in the booking process. The airlines made changes to their pricing structures and websites following the OFT’s enforcement action.
Similarly, a super-complaint from Consumer Focus to the OFT in relation to charges for using credit and debit cards abroad and the purchase of foreign currency within the UK resulted in an agreement from banks and travel money providers to improve significantly the information provided to consumers on options available when purchasing foreign currency or using the credit and debit cards abroad.
Given the current level of scrutiny of the financial sector and the ongoing competition litigation against Visa and MasterCard, it will be interesting to see whether the new super-complaint regime leads to even more involvement by regulators in the sector.