"What's to stop me charging a little extra for bill payments services?"

The outraged retailer who posed the question wished to remain anonymous, but clearly wanted answers. "How can they get away with making me work for next to nothing? How can they insist I don't add a transaction fee?"

I said to him, as far as I know, trading standards say you can charge extra, so long as you put up a sign to the effect; however, you are in a contract with PayPoint which says you can't, so if a customer complains or the rep notices, the company will remove your terminal.

He said: "Paypoint is obliging us to adhere to resale price maintenance, which was repealed years ago. They turn us into slave labour so they can offer the public great prices. I couldn't do the same even if my staff agreed to work for £3 an hour and take no holiday so I could cut prices, I wouldn't be allowed to do it."

He also thought the company must be contravening some EC law.

I put this to PayPoint and spokesman Peter Brooker has replied: "I'm afraid the resale price maintenance argument doesn't hold any water; there is no resale price involved. The issue here is that the whole principle of PayPoint is that the service is free to consumers making their payments. This is also demanded by our clients and is why we include it in our contract with retailers. We take this commitment very seriously and also view it as part of our commitment to our customers the consumers."

Incidentally, retailers need have no fears over revealing their identity. "Our contract contains nothing about not criticising PayPoint," says Brooker. "We would never take and have never taken any action against any retailers who air a genuine grievance (subject, of course, to usual caveats regarding accuracy and defamation)."

That last part is good to know retailers often fear repercussions from their service providers.

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