In January an Oyster card top-up machine managed to turn £20 of my cash into a mere £10 of credit. Here is the journey I had to take (bad joke alert!) to get them to give me my £10 back.
Perhaps the best way to explain this one is to print the first complaint I sent to Oyster customer services via the contact form on the Oyster website:
Text of the first complaint
On arriving at [xxx] station after 3 months abroad I needed to top up my Oyster prepay.
I went to the card only machine and paid £10. However I didn’t touch my card on the machine for the second time after payment fast enough (it’s been a while since I used these machines and I forgot I needed to do this). I got a message saying that I had been charged, but my Oyster card hadn’t been updated.
I asked a member of staff for help but he was unable/unwilling to help – saying he’d never seen this happen before.
As I needed to get home I paid another £10 and this time touched my card on the reader in time so my Oyster was credited with £10.
Therefore I have been charged 2*£10 but have only received 1*£10 credit on my card.
If you look at your payment logs you will see I have used the same card to make two payments and your Oyster logs will show that only one of them was credited to my card.
Please either arrange for £10 to be refunded to the same card, or I am happy to collect the extra £10 credit at the ticket barrier at [xxx] station.
A better designed system
Why was it necessary for me to have to write in to complain? They should have systems that automatically detect this problem. A better designed system would have:
1. Not required a second touch of the card on the sensor.
2. And/Or automatically given me the missing credit next time I touched any Oyster sensor.
3. And/Or automatically refunded the money direct to my card without me asking.
4. And printed out a physical diagnostic receipt from the machine which I could have shown to the staff members at the station. The machine briefly showed an error message on screen, but having proof of the problem in my hand would be much better for convincing the station counter staff to offer some help. It could be in the form of a refund voucher which would get me an immediate refund when handed over to the counter staff.
What they shouldn’t be doing is pocketing your money, giving you nothing in return, and then forcing you to spend you own time writing a complaint!
There was a further problem when I tried to complain using the complaint form on their website.
I filled in form. Pressed ‘Continue’. And I got a ‘500 internal server error’ Pressing the ‘Back’ button in the browser caused me to lose my form contents. Luckily I’d saved the text before pressing ‘Continue’ as I know that badly implemented forms sometimes do this.
I refilled in form. Pressed ‘Submit’. I then got a “Please enter phone number in correct format.” Message. However it didn’t tell me what the correct format was. I guessed that I needed to remove the space in the number and then it worked.
So do you think I got a refund after this complaint?
Not even close! I got no response from my first complaint to Oyster customer services.
So a week later I sent another complaint using the Oyster complaint form. Again no reply.
Realising that they don’t seem to be doing anything about complaints sent online I decided to write Oyster customer services a letter.
Did I get a response? Of course not. This is even worse as unlike the complaint using their web form this complaint cost me a stamp, an envelope, and a sheet of A4 paper.
I then sent another postal complaint – this time to TFL customer services. There was no response during the next week.
Finally 16 days after sending the letter to TFL customer services I got an email reply (coming from Oyster online customer services), apologising for my lost £10 and saying that I could collect my £10 of credit from the Oyster gate at my chosen station.
Response from Oyster customer service centre
Thank you for contacting us about what happened at [xxx] station on 26 January. Please accept my apologies for the long delay in responding to you.
I am sorry that you were charged for a product you didn’t receive when using one of our ticket machines.
Your refund of £10 has been sent to the gates at [xxx] station as requested. When you touch in at the gate at the beginning of your journey this amount will be loaded onto your Oyster card. This refund will be available from 24/03/10 and can be collected for 7 days afterwards.
If you have any problems collecting the refund in this time please contact me directly quoting the above reference number.
Thank you for your patience while this matter was being resolved. Please feel free to contact me again if you need any help in the future.
Here’s a quick timeline:
- 26th January – Oyster top up machine takes £10 off me and gives me no top-up in return, forcing me to spend another £10 to get enough credit to get home.
- 28th January – I sent a complaint using the online form on the Oyster website.
- 3rd February – I send another complaint using the online form.
- 11th February – This time I send a postal complaint to Oyster customer services.
- 7th March – I send a postal complaint to TFL customer services.
- 23rd March – Finally I get an email response from Oyster customer services.
- 24th March – I get my £10 back.
A satisfactory outcome?
Am I satisfied with the Oyster customer service / TFL response? No, they have been less than satisfactory on many levels:
- Their staff member at the station offered me no help, and was unwilling to investigate my missing £10.
- Oyster customer service online failed to respond to the two online complaints I made in a timely manner.
- Oyster customer services failed to respond to my written postal complaint.
- TFL customer services didn’t respond to my written postal complaint.
- When I finally get a response they didn’t offer me an explanation of what went wrong, what they are doing to stop it happening again, or why it took them so long. All they could offer was “sorry, and here’s how to get your £10 back”.
- They offered me no compensation. For the fact that this kind of error can be made, the four complaints I had to make (two postal, costing me stamps, envelopes, etc), and for the two months it took to refund my money, I would have expected some compensation. I think a minimum of an extra £10 of credit should have been offered.
A special bonus in case you need to make a complaint
Whenever I need to make a written complaint I print the address out on an envelope. I find that if you need to make one postal complaint, it is quite likely that you will need to make a second complaint, so it is good to be able to print out the addressed envelopes quickly. Here is a link to a zip file containing addressed envelopes for Oyster and TFL customer services, in case you find you need to send them a complaint in the future.