Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Beware TFL Contactless Payment overcharging with Credit Cards

Check your card statement very carefully if you use contactless payment on London Transport TFL instead of Oyster

Using a credit card to touch in and out and pay for journeys on the tube around London would seem like a much better payment method than using an Oyster card - which you have to apply for and top up in advance. 

Contactless credit and debit card payment is especially useful for infrequent travellers who would previously have paid much higher single fares.

Topping up an Oyster card also requires a stored balance, using a credit or debit contactless card means you truly do 'pay as you go' - no upfront contribution to the TFL coffers.

However the down side is you don't see any display on the card reader showing how much you have been charged when you pay this way. Also all the journeys in a single day are added together into a single charge on your card statement so you have no idea what you paid for each individual journey.

I just got my credit card statement for March. 28 days ago I was charged £10.80 on 30th March for journeys that should have cost a total of £5.60. I didn't discover this until my credit card statement arrived almost a month later.

Fortunately the day this journey took place I suspected something would go wrong with the payment so I registered my credit card on the TFL website in my Oyster profile.

The reason I suspected a problem was because although the customer leaving the exit barrier in front of me touched out there was a problem with his payment.

I had already touched my card on the reader and we both pushed through as the barriers opened. I was concerned about how I would be charged. If you don't touch out you pay a full fare and I couldn't be sure whose payment had registered to open the gates - his payment or mine.

So I spoke to a member of TFL staff who explained I should touch out again as I could not be charged twice.

I was dubious this would happen  so I registered my card online when I got home and thought nothing about it until the credit card statement arrived.

£10.80 as a daily charge exceeds the 
£8.80 daily fare cap for touching in and out

After looking at the statement I logged in to TFL to discover I had an incomplete journey alert in my account. But instead of recognising that my card had been charged twice less than 1 minute apart the system appeared to assume I had made another journey in the meantime (if only tube travel was so quick you could go anywhere within a single minute!) and was asking me where I should have touched in.

I filled out an online form to claim a refund from TFL, but it looked like what might happen would be that I would subsequently get charged for 3 journeys instead of the 2 I actually made that day.

Then I phoned my credit card provider MBNA. The agent was extremely unhelpful when I explained MBNA had accepted an incorrect charge on my behalf from TFL. They explained curtly that this retailer (TFL) had instructed them not to deal with any disputes but refer complainants to TFL.

This morning I phoned TFL. The agent saw the problem and agreed to refund the incorrectly registered incomplete journey fee of £5.20. But I was unhappy about this. TFL could have contacted me by email or phone using data in my account, but no, they just billed my credit card an extra fee - exceeding the daily maximum charge.

I pushed the point. 

  • The member of staff at Oxford Circus was incorrect when they advised me to touch out again. The agent explained you are charged every time you touch the reader.

  • TFL should have realised I could not have made a fresh journey inside a one minute interval.

  • TFL should correct these errors - other credit card users who don't register their cards online may never spot the error.

The agent said this was a unique situation, normally errors were automatically corrected before charges are applied.

I responded I very much doubted this experience was 'unique' and had only happened once on planet earth with millions of users every day. He agreed it was not 'unique' but only happened a few times a day. 

That's a lot of extra revenue taken from customers who have been overcharged. 

TFL should be proactive and refund customers - not wait for them to notice.

TFL should warn customers of other contactless payment problems - not just the danger of card clash (touching more than one card near the reader may result in multiple charges).

The agent did agree to refund me £10 for the trouble their mistakes caused me.

I won't be using credit cards to pay now but will revert to topping up an Oyster card - that way my contract is direct with TFL not via a credit card company, and I can verify the charge for journeys on screen as I touch out.

Here are TFL's help pages for disputed credit card incomplete journey charges:

Update: 30th October 2017

As further proof TFL fraudulent overcharging on credit cards continues. 

My partner's Amex card has just been charged £7.70. In fact she made no journey at all. 

She touched in at Heathrow Terminal 5 last week, but the station was evacuated before she boarded any train. When the tannoy announced an emergency evacuation the gates were opened so it was not possible to touch out. At my suggestion she linked her Amex card in her Oyster account and it immediately showed there was a refund owing for an imcomplete journey with an indicative fare of £2.80 (This in itself is twice the fare that would have been charged if the journey had been made). 

If TFL knew the likely journey charge was £2.80 why did it take £7.70 from the customer's credit card account? 

TFL is still overcharging users of contactless credit cards.

Belvoir Fruit Farms Ginger Cordial - 'new fiery recipe' disaster

'New Fiery Recipe' Belvoir Farms Ginger Cordial 
and the old 'makes 10 pints'  version side by side

This article was originally written in April 2015. The 'Fiery' recipe was replaced in December 2016. I have reviewed the 3rd recipe in June 2017 at the end of this article

In our household we used to love Belvoir Farms Ginger cordial. Mixed with sparkling mineral water (and ice) it was a delicious, refreshing old fashioned tasting ginger beer-like drink.

Belvoir Ginger cordial was hard to get hold of - only the larger branches of Waitrose, Sainsburys, Tesco and Asda stocked it. It was so popular among die-hard aficionados that there was often just a vacant gap on the shelf where it should have stood.
So eventually I took to ordering in bulk from Ocado whenever it was on offer. Last night I noticed Ocado was price matching Tesco at 2 bottles for £5 so I ordered the maximum 20 bottles that Ocado would allow. The delivery arrived super promptly at 9 am this morning.

I noticed immediately something was wrong. In fact at first I thought I may have ordered a ready to drink variety rather than the concentrate - because the liquid was clear, not cloudy like the 'old version'. 
I grabbed a bottle of the old one and me and the delivery driver looked at them side by side. 'Same label' the driver said. 'Yes it is' I agreed. So on that basis I took delivery of 20 bottles.
When the driver left I peered at the bottle, well bottles actually, rather more thoroughly. It didn't look good. On the neck label was the tiny legend ' new fiery recipe' where it used to say 'makes 10 pints'.
I decided the drink might taste the same, even though it looked so different. I mixed up 2 glasses - both with sparkling mineral water and ice. As I feared the 'new fiery recipe' version was clear next to the pleasingly cloudy old 'makes 10 pints' version.
I sipped nervously the new drink. Nasty. sharp, watery, lemony, with a tingling burning sensation on the tongue and an acidic after taste. 
Then a sip of the old version. Aah, chalk and cheese, smooth, with real body and a great ginger taste.
I read the ingredients label. I didn't like what I read.

New 'fiery recipe' version
Sugar, water, fresh root ginger infusion 20%, lemon juice (from concentrate) ginger extracts 1%, citric acid, lemon extract, capsicum extract.
Old 'makes 10 pints' version
water, glucose syrup, sugar, lemon juice 10% (from concentrate) fresh ginger extract 8%, concentrated ginger extract 2%.

Yes - completely different 

Look again at the tiny neck label - 'new fiery recipe'
Now I knew I would have to send back 20 bottles to Ocado. I couldn't drink this - and I'd just spent fifty quid on a supply for the whole summer.
Before I arranged to send it back I thought I'd better check this wasn't a faulty batch. I looked up Belvoir Fruit Farms online. I started filling in their web form, but then as it didn't seem to promise much help I phoned them. 

Why has Belvoir Fruit Farm changed the Ginger Cordial recipe?
The automated options certainly do make Belvoir sound like a farm rather than a huge multi-national drinks producer. So when my call defaulted to 'switchboard' I wasn't surprised. I asked if they had a consumer department for customer queries. 'What's it about?' the operator asked. 'The ginger cordial' I replied. There was the slightest hint of recognition as to why I might be phoning. "i'll put you through to Barbara'.
Barbara came on the phone instantly. I explained about how we loved their Ginger cordial, but now I'd got 20 new bottles and they looked all wrong. 'Perhaps I have a faulty batch?' I said optimistically. 
'Has the bottle got a new recipe label on the neck? asked Barbara. So this wasn't a faulty batch, this really was the 'new fiery recipe'.

Barbara went on to explain they had to change the recipe because the supplier of the ginger extract had ceased trading. So they'd had to formulate a new recipe, they'd added lemon juice to prevent the solids forming in the bottle (we liked those bits!). They'd had to change the ginger part, it wasn't a choice, it was out of their hands. There was no going back. Barbara was sounding a bit upset now. 

It seems I'm not the only disappointed former ginger cordial fan. There have been many more getting in touch. I said I felt Belvoir should have been clearer that this is a COMPLETELY NEW recipe. She reluctantly agreed perhaps they should have done something more 'all singing and dancing' than 'new fiery recipe' on the tiny neck label.

I pointed out that if you shop online you'd have no idea the label has changed (in fact Ocado still shows the old 'makes 10 pints'  neck label in their stock photo). Barbara said they didn't know when the new stock would land in each of the stores as they make it in bulk and send it out as and when the orders come in.

Oh well. Good customer service from Belvoir, they explained themselves, and they really are a small boutique type manufacturer - Cocoa Cola they are not (thankfully) at the mercy of other suppliers.

Ocado were even better and immediately offered to collect all 19 bottles (I sampled one remember) but they would refund me for 20. They also said they'd send a note to the website product team. 
I've added a review online on Ocado.com to warn other fans of Belvoir Ginger Cordial. Sadly it can never be the same drink again. First world problem I know. Meanwhile I'll be scouring the shelves for old stock - more like searching for rare wine than ginger cordial.

June 2017 The '3rd' recipe with capsicum extract

The '3rd' 2017 recipe left, original 2015 recipe right - click image to view ingredients

Equal measures undiluted with ice

I amassed significant supplies (about 36 bottles, it was on offer in Tesco) of the 'original' recipe bottles back in 2015 when I realised the recipe had changed. I still have around 10 bottles in June 2017. But prompted by recent comments (below) I'm updating this article to cover the latest recipe (which I will call the '3rd' recipe). 

Appearance: The 3rd recipe is much less cloudy than the original recipe and this is noticeable when the bottles are placed side by side.

Ingredients: (2015, original recipe) water, glucose syrup, sugar, lemon juice 10% (from concentrate), fresh ginger extract 8%, concentrated ginger extract 2%

Ingredients: (2017, 3rd recipe) sugar, water, lemon juice (from concentrate) fresh root ginger infusion 11%, processed ginger juice 2% (not from concentrate) ginger extracts, capsicum extract 

For historical reference:

Ingredients: (2015 'fiery' recipe) Sugar, water, fresh root ginger infusion 20%, lemon juice (from concentrate) ginger extracts 1%, citric acid, lemon extract, capsicum extract.

Taste: I like this drink reasonably strong. Stronger than the 22 x 250ml servings the label suggests are possible. I used the pictured shot glass to pour 2 equal measures and then filled the glass with ice and sparkling mineral water (Saskia from Lidl which is my preference). I realise that temperature also has an effect on flavour, but this is how I prefer this drink and therefore that's how I chose to conduct this test.

As you would expect on dilution the '3rd' recipe remains clearer and more 'cordial' like in appearance. The original recipe is cloudier.

I tasted the original recipe first as it's what I am most familiar with. It has a sugary, full bodied smooth taste with a refreshing ginger tang. It resembles what I suppose could be described as  a 'juice' the kind of drink that might come from a carton (especially at this strong dilute).

In contrast the '3rd' recipe (2017) is more like a traditional cordial in appearance and taste - a drink which has water added by the consumer. It tastes 'thinner', less sugary (in common with many drinks now that health concerns are raised) and the ginger is obvious (as you would hope!). The fresh ginger juice is refreshing and pleasing to the taste. It is much nicer than the 'fiery' recipe, so a definite improvement. However I'm personally not keen on the addition of capsicum - it is very definitely evident and for me has a rather unpleasant lingering taste on the tongue. Ginger traditionally has a settling effect on the stomach, and I would imagine the capsicum could reverse this effect as it is known to be an irritant. 

So well done Belvoir for having another go at the recipe and for explaining why it was altered in the first place. Personally I would prefer a recipe without the capsicum, but I appreciate that Belvoir will have researched this and are confident that consumers prefer more 'fire' in their ginger drink - perhaps to make it closer to ginger beer. 

I purchased the '3rd' recipe on offer at Waitrose with 25% off the standard price (£3.15) at £2.36 for 500ml. This would be a price point that I would consider 'stocking up' but I'm afraid it's not the drink I hoped it would be. If it had been my first ever trial purchase I suspect I would not be a repeat buyer. To be fair I do not buy cordials in general, and so I'm not a typical consumer. If you liked the original recipe I would urge you to try it - you might love it.

A few years ago the 'Roots' brand produced a wonderful ginger cordial (also discontinued as far as I am aware) Cordials appear to be fashionable so I'm hopeful another ginger cordial will appear on the market before my supply of 'original' Belvoir Ginger Cordial is exhausted.