By Marcus Leach

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has secured agreement from banks and travel money providers to significantly improve the information on options available for consumers purchasing foreign currency in the UK or using credit and debit cards abroad.

Following a super-complaint from Consumer Focus, the OFT has found that charges for purchasing foreign currency and using cards overseas can be confusing and often not at all clear for consumers.

The OFT has engaged closely with the industry to tackle the problems it has identified and welcomes a raft of commitments made by banks and other providers, including:

Agreement from Lloyds/HBOS, Barclays, RBS/Natwest, Santander and the Co-operative Bank to scrap charges for consumers using their debit cards to purchase foreign currency in the UK (typically between 1.5 and 2 per cent of the amount being purchased).

A joint agreement from the UK Cards Association and the British Bankers Association, on behalf of their members, that they will give clearer, more accessible information about their charges for using cards abroad, on websites, statements and through call centres.

Lloyds/HBOS, HSBC, Co-operative Bank, Capital One, RBS/Natwest and American Express have agreed to display the actual charges incurred by customers for using cards abroad far more clearly on their monthly and annual statements.

Many foreign currency businesses have agreed to review their marketing to make the various costs and conditions that apply clearer, particularly those applicable to '0% commission' deals.

The OFT's report found that, in 2010, people spent around £32 billion abroad (of which £27 billion was while on holiday), using both their debit and credit cards and foreign currency bought in the UK, resulting in an estimated revenue of £1.1 billion for travel money providers active in the UK.

The OFT welcomes these initiatives, and the effort invested by the UK Cards Association and the British Bankers Association in progressing these issues with their members.

"Companies should be earning profits by competing to provide the best value products and services, not through charges that are hard for customers to identify or interpret," John Fingleton, OFT Chief Executive, said.

"We are very pleased that the travel money industry has agreed, following a OFT short investigation, to make these significant voluntary changes. We believe they will reduce confusion about the charges that apply when buying travel money in the UK or using cards overseas, and hope they will allow holidaymakers to be far better informed when making choices about how they spend abroad. This should drive greater competition in the UK travel money market."

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