By Doug Hallett
“Will that be Visa or Mastercard?” no longer applies for customers of Guelph Hydro.
Visa Canada has told the processing service that handles credit card payments for Guelph Hydro that it can no longer charge people a 2 ½ per cent fee on their utility bill payments.
So the third-party service, known as Paymentus, has told Visa that it will no longer accept its credit cards.
The upshot is that as of March 31, Guelph Hydro customers wanting to pay their bills by credit card can use only Mastercard, said Sandy Manners, Guelph Hydro’s director of corporate communications.
“We have been trying to come up with a solution, but our hands are tied by the Ontario Energy Board,” Manners said in an interview.
The energy board doesn’t allow Ontario’s utility companies, such as Guelph Hydro, to absorb the service fees charged by credit card companies. The reason is that this is seen as preferential treatment to credit card users, she said. The energy board says utilities can’t absorb such fees “because we have to treat all customers fairly, on an equal footing.”
Visa Canada has told Paymentus that charging credit users a fee for each payment is no longer permitted under Visa’s international operating regulations, Manners said.
“Mastercard rules presumably are different,” she said, so Paymentus is still allowing people to pay their Guelph Hydro bills by Mastercard – with the 2 ½% fee tacked on.
Asked if many of hydro’s customers actually pay by credit card, given the 2 ½% fee charged by Paymentus, Manners replied: “You’d be surprised. A lot of people do.”
So, she said, the change eliminating the option of using Visa is “a big deal.”
Asked if Guelph Hydro has been getting complaints from its customers since the change went into effect, Manners said hydro has only got “a few questions” about other payment options.
There are several other payment options, she said, including pre-authorized debits from people’s bank accounts. People can also mail cheques or money orders to Guelph Hydro to pay their bills. They can also pay the bills in person at any bank, or they can use cheques, money orders or cash to pay the bills at some convenience stores and pharmacies.
Guelph Hydro bills include not only electricity charges, but also water charges that Guelph Hydro collects for city hall.
Retailers absorb the fees charged by credit card companies on transactions – in the sense that retailers generally charge the same price for goods, regardless of whether customers pay for them by credit card, cash or debit. Complicating the situation is the fact that credit card companies charge retailers higher fees for use of certain credit cards that carry more generous benefits for people who use these cards.
By Doug Hallett