My two months journey to get £10 Oyster refund

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.

oyster card tfl complaint

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!

Technical problems

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.

Oyster and TFL customer services addressed envelopes (11kb)

28 Comments on “My two months journey to get £10 Oyster refund”

  1. Very interesting – I’ve experienced numerous times that the Oyster system doesn’t charge correctly when the journey is more complicated than a straight A-B route (e.g. including DLR and tube, or the Waterloo & Cityline and a change at Waterloo.). My impression is that the whole system is pretty poorly implemented – seems to have been a first year computer science student project. A final year student would do a better job or probably fail their degree. Anyway, their online complaint system seems to be connected straight to the recycle bin, that’s why I’m now resorting to send a letter (signed for, of course) and slap the charges on top of the refund due.

    I remember there was an Oyster campaing (at Ken Livingstones time) saying “98% of Londoners pay the correct fare. Do you too?” – I guess the remaining 2% it account for those (pay-as-you-go) customers who are selected for random extra charges (like your top-up experience).

  2. I’ve just got back from Guildford County Court where I was victorious over Transport for London. They have been ignoring repeated requests to refund £2.20 overpayment to my Oyster card, I had to make a small claim against them in the end. They now have 30 days to obey the court’s order and pay me £2.20 plus £25 court fee, after which it will have been a total of 11 months from when they overcharged me!

  3. Hi Ben,

    Well done! It can be tough to get your money back from TFL!

    Was it difficult to claim from them via the small claims court?

  4. Filing the claim was simple enough, then TfL Legal jumped into action with pages and pages of defence.

    They were utterly convinced I did not deserve my £2.20 back, and tried all sorts of unreasonable arguments. They offered to settle for just £25 (the court fee), which the District Judge thought was odd, given that they could have actually settled for £27.20.

  5. I’ve found it difficult to get a response from TfL in the past (I ordered a replacement Oyster online, which they took the money for, but didn’t send me a confirmation email or send my the card, to take one example).

    I’ve found that cc’ing your GLA member helps get a response. They are very incompetent.

    My latest problem has been trying to replace an Oyster that has stopped working, but has three weeks’ worth of travelcard on it. I can only fix this problem by speaking to the staff at the station, but they’re always so rude, acting like victims (no matter how polite you are) who need to be protected from the public by their union, rather than the figures of authority that they are. They’re so defensive as to be useless (although I know not all union members are like this, being one myself, but the slightest of raised eyebrows or pressing them to answer your questions can lead to accusations of abuse, or being ‘passive aggressive’ – a terrible term).

  6. I have written a letter of complaint to TFL today and will see if I get a response. It was because a faulty barrier at Holborn meant I was charged £6 instead of £2.70 for my single journey.

    However station staff refused to give me a refund and said I said to ring an 0845 number. Station staff CAN refund your Oyster, they just hate doing it because it causes them loads of paperwork and that’s why they urge you to ring the 0845 number. The argument escalated and the manager at Holborn ended up telling me to f*ck off! I’ve written a complaint to the Chief Exec. Mike Brown. It took me a while to find his email so I will put it here for anyone who wants to complain:

    Mike (at)

    Maybe a direct complaint to him will speed things up.

  7. I sent a complaint to TFL via their own website, complaining of the terrible time I had to wait before someone from their oyster helpline bothered to pick up the telephone.

    My experience suggest TFL dont take complaints seriousely at all. The website told me I should receive a response within ten working days. we are almost on the 16th day and guess what, noithing.

  8. It seems Oyster Customer Service have been trying to update their systems since at least friday. Their automated message still says “Please allow 24 hours for us to update our systems” but I first heard this friday morning.

    I was charged £4.10 for a journey from London Bridge after I had reached my fare cap on my New Deal registered oystercard. I rang them the next day (thursday) and apparently their system did not have my card as registered for New Deal. However, every oystercard reader I have checked with confirms the registration.

    I rang again friday morning and got the automated message above. Trying to get through to an advisor was impossible, but rather than say they were unavailable, it just kept saying “your call will be answered shortly…”. It’s still doing that now.

    I found this blog whilst searching for more info about whatever problem they are having. It doesn’t fill me with confidence…

  9. I have tried 6 times today to speak to someone about getting my £39 back from my ‘lost’ card…and every time I am on hold music for 20 mins plus before I give up. Everytime I try a different option they say they can’t help and then cut me off on purpose. I’m sooooooooooooooooooooooooo fed up. Oyster sucks! I’m going back to my paper season ticket.

  10. I’m also trying to speak to a human being about my NEW oyster not working after only 3 days and it still has money on it. I’ve phoned 4 times, left messages to be called back (surprise! surprise! no-one does) and held on for ages. The charges for holding on for half an hour on an 0845 number are really expensive from any phone. You just CAN’T get through, it’s appalling. Is there any phone number other than 0845 3309876?

    Does anyone know what body would look into all these complaints? Is there an some sort of ombudsman for transport?

  11. Had exactly the same thing happen – fed a top up machine with cash at the weekend, the machine said we had taken too long, swallowed the money and didn’t credit the card. I’m afraid to say I was fairly furious when the ticket office staff member gave me a card with a number to call customer servies. I explained (calmly) that that wasn’t good enough, that I had done nothing wrong. In fact, I had followed all the necessary steps to top up my oyster card and now he was making it my problem to sort out. Then he said he had checked the back of the machine and there was no money in it. Incensed, I said I would wait for a station supervisor. Long story short, it took half an hour, but I got the money refunded at the station by the station supervisor. I recommend not walking away unitl it has been resolved to your satisfaction.

  12. Oyster charged me twice to for an ‘auto top-up’ in September. I’ve been trying to get a refund for £20 and despite letters, phone calls and emails, still haven’t got a refund. The Customer Support Manager emailed me today asking me to send a copy of my bank statement which they already have. I’m cancelling my ‘auto top-up’ and would advise others to check their bank statements very carefully in future for duplicate payments.

  13. I too have had such a problem with oyster card complaints. A friend and I were charged £4.20 each for going onto the platform, missing our train and coming out of the platform. I have sent two completed complaint forms to oyster complaints but have not heard anything back. This is not the first problem I’ve had with oyster card, with my second card I set it up with £7 credit which disappeared between me leaving the counter and tagging in. It is strange as I have never heard of anyone who has been undercharged or received additional credits. It appears that all the “bugs” in the system are designed to over charge.

  14. This morning I had -20p on my Oyster Card because apparently I had an incomplete journey 5 days ago. I remember the incident, I touched out four times but each time it gave me an error message. The ticket office at the station refused to refund my money, as it was an Overground, when I got to an underground station they said they couldnt refund me as it happened ‘so long ago’ (3 days). I called the number above and have now been holding for 15 minutes even though the operator is telling me my call will be answered in 6 minutes…

    I’ve just got through and the journey this man is relaying to me has not been made by me at all, he is mentioning stations I have never heard of…

    So he has now located my correct account, it was a simple double-click mistake apparently. I can have a refund when I next touch in, but not today. Tomorrow maybe. I am offered a reference number, I ask for an email or letter as prove of my complaint but the he says I just have to trust him, and I should just take the ref number because this conversation is starting to get annoying. He hung up when i asked for his name, without giving me the reference number. I doubt i’ll get my refund tommorrow either.

  15. Well in a way I’m glad I’m not the only one having problems and seeing what others have written on here has given me an idea of the kind of battle i’m going to have on my hands to get my money back. A return from morden to edgware road somehow cost me £15. I’d love to see how they explain that.. AFTER they give me my money back. I sent off the form on Monday, I have had zero response which I’m now not surprised about when I see what everyone else here has said. I’ve been given an oyster complaint reference number when I shot off the form… so what am i supposed to do with that? there’s no way to check up on a complaint.. just send out another form. It seems ridiculous to spend time and money having to take them to a small claims court, £15 may not be a lot of money to them, [Ed: snip], but £15 is a lot of money to me. It would be so much easier for everyone if they [Ed: snip] get their machines to work properly so things like this don’t happen again. There is just no explanation or justification for how i got charged more than twice the price of a travelcard for a simple return journey.

    [Ed: Tash – sorry I had to snip a few bits out of your comment to keep it family friendly! Good luck getting your money back!]

  16. When you call the main Oyster number it is essential that the correct options for the department you need is selected, the main desk can take ages to get to but there are many other departments, failed, lost, student etc, the wait times are far less on these, but if you go to the wrong one be prepared to have to ring back, they can’t transfer you!

  17. I would be really happy if someone could tell me what I should do.. I wanted to renew my weekly travelcard on my oyster by the machine. After I inserted my debit card the machine said that it was unsuccessful. So I tried again. It was also unsuccessful. Then I topped up by £5 as I was in a hurry. I was shocked when I saw my account online: they charged me 2 times £27.6 = £55.2 !!!! And there is nothing on my oyster card!! £55.2 for nothing, this is absolutely disgusting!! I came to the UK last week but this thing disappointed me a lot in London! Please let me know who I should contact now! Sorry, my English is not perfect..

  18. Hi Eni, I’d suggest you do what I did and write to Oyster and TFL customer services – you’ll see the address on the envelope in the zip file that is attached to this post. It may take a while to sort out, but I’m sure you’ll get your refund / credit in the end. Good luck!

  19. ive had this and ive only had an oyster card for just over 2 months now, got charged and the machine ate my money but didnt top up the oyster, had to go to the office at holborn and tell them what the issue was, they said my money would be refunded when i next check into becontree station, didnt happen, so i went to the god almighty useless member of staff there and he did not want to help in the slightest, like everyone else i should just phone up to resolve the issue, and yesterday i topped up via bank card by £30, it didnt top up my card yet my bank account has had this money taken and i shall be printing a statement of this, im absolutely sick of the system and ive been using it for such a short time. TFL really need to give their staff a good kick up the backside to get them in gear and stop ripping us off for stuff that doesn’t even work properly!

  20. I cannot believe there are other people in the exact same boat as me! On my second day of purchasing/using a month-long Travelcard, I was stopped halfway in a journey and told that my Oyster card was no longer readable. Because it is a Student Oyster, they told me calling the helpline was the only option I had because they didn’t deal those out directly. So, I called the 083 number and after unknowingly paying an arm/leg for the call, the borderline rude representative told me that I would have to pay for any fares while I waited for a new card. However, this was after essentially insinuating that I somehow damaged my card in the 3 minute tube ride from Chancery Lane to Bank. Right, because that sounds more reasonable than the systems just being faulty. I have since written over 5 email complaints to the TfL, but OF COURSE, I have yet to receive a reply! I am so incensed, I am planning on visiting the offices tomorrow. I will stop at nothing to receive the useless £21 I spent for a service my Travelcard should have been covering. I cannot believe that TfL operates on the model of “the customer is never right.”
    To make matters worse though, I had a friend visiting this weekend who had to purchase an Oyster card too. She had heard my complaints all weekend, and was very receptive to them. However, neither of us thought she would also incur the same inefficiency that is TfL. Thanks to broken barriers at Covent Garden (they were left wide open), my friend was charged a £2.60 fee since the machine didn’t read her touching out. Unfortunately, when we asked the assistant for help, he began yelling at us that we shouldn’t have tried to cheat the system. I have NEVER dealt with such rude and incompetent staff in my life… I was literally BAFFLED and before you knew it, I was yelling back at this man. TfL is a completely crooked organization and I cannot believe London will be hosting the Olympics in a few short months!

  21. I am not used to manual oyster top up at station
    It took my cash but I mistakenly did not tap in the reader the second time, Surprised how silently they will take your money for good on a mistake like this, what kind of people operate this service – characterless or what – I pity all the crushing quequeing different language people who will trust there money to these people

  22. not to mention the mentally ill and otherwise challenged workers and vistors to this city,
    All I want to say is We are not all not as uncaring as these tfl operators In this in London city

  23. Really odd that their systems don’t automatically refund these errors. This just happened to me today when toping up. Guess I’ll go through the same process as you. Thanks for sharing.

  24. What if you want your actual money back? I have two oysters, one I use normally and one I use for emergencies (if I lose or forget my usual one). Getting a refund on my emergency oyster doesn’t make any sense to me, since I only update it if I need the money, and transferring the money to my other one doesn’t help because my other one has a monthly or weekly travel pass on it… So what if I just want my ten pounds back? How can I get it back?

  25. Happened to me today at a DLR station with no service staff. Like several of the earlier posters I am surprised that there is no error detection mechanism which halts an unsuccessful top-up. Always assumed that was a fundamental design in such machines. I wonder if this is yet another way of making the money they so badly need. I mean most would not go through the hassle of seeking a refund. Especially visitors. I bet it all adds up to quite a tidy sum!

  26. Have had similar problems re DLR
    and now with the hold situation that some are reporting
    lost a card and -the operators when you do actually get through just pass you on to another person who will then say they are the wrong department and only offer to pass you onto the correct person, ad infinitum
    and ive been hung up on
    they refuse to give me a direct dial number or call back.

  27. TFL owe me £100

    I purchased a zone 1-3 season ticket and was made redundant a few days later, rendering my season ticket useless to me. I handed in my app.ication form, with evidence that wasn’t actually asked for on the form to hel things along. After a month, no response. 3 emails and 2 phonecalls later I am told they have lost my paperwork. They have now told me I cannot have a refund without providing my journey history. TFl’s website will no longer let me access my journey history which a) I wouldn’t need to access if they hadn’t lost my evidence, and b) evicence was never a requirement of the application form.

    Very upset as being made redundant 5 weeks before Christmas, I kind of need my £100 back.

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