Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

My two months journey to get £10 Oyster refund

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

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)

Cleaning kettle limescale with vinegar

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

If you have a kettle that looks like the photo below you might be dreading having to clean it.

limescale covered kettle

Trying to scrub limescale like this off the inside of a kettle is hard work if you don’t use the right cleaning product. Vinegar is a traditional solution used to get rid of limescale. I bought a 13p bottle of vinegar from Tesco to give it a go.

limescale covered kettle bottle vinegar

What I did was to put a very *small amount* amount of vinegar into the bottom of the kettle (about a quarter of the bottle) and then boil it.

It is important that you don’t put too much in because vinegar foams! If you put too much vinegar in the kettle it will go everywhere and may short your electrics – or even worse electrocute you!

Here is a video of what happened when I started the kettle. This video must surely be destined to win the ‘best video on YouTube’ prize.

After boiling the vinegar, I left the kettle for an hour, then put in another quarter of the bottle of vinegar and boiled it again. I then left the kettle for a short while and gave it a clean with a soft fabric scourer. The limescale came off really easily – so this traditional cleaning method does work. And I only needed to use half a 13p bottle of vinegar to do it. Below is what the base of my kettle looked like afterwards.

shiny kettle base

A few final thoughts – once again don’t put too much vinegar in as it foams! And finally you should be aware that boiling vinegar will make your kitchen smell of vinegar for hours afterwards. Don’t do this if you are expecting guests!

Present and gift logging spreadsheet

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Sometime it can be hard to think of what presents to give for birthday, Christmas, Valentines or anniversaries. Having a record of what presents you have given before can help to provide inspiration, and can help you avoid giving the same present twice.

present or gift logging spreadsheet

I’ve made a simple spreadsheet for logging gifts and presents. I’ve put some example data in there so you can see how to use it.

The rows can easily be filtered by the person’s name, or the event, by using the auto filter options in the header row. I’ve added some example auto-colouring which colours certain events (birthday, Christmas, and Valentines) to make them stand out.

The gift logging spreadsheet can be downloaded with this link – it is only 5kb zipped up.

Virgin Trains standard vs 1st class

Monday, March 8th, 2010

When booking a recent two hour return train journey I spotted that I could take 1st class on the return leg for only £5 extra. I thought I’d give it a go to see if it is any better than standard class.

The standard class outward journey

If you are taking a Virgin Train from a London mainline station like Euston and are in standard class, one of the first things you’ll notice is that you have quite a long walk to your carriage.

The 1st class carriages are nearest to the building entrance. The standard class carriages are at the other end so you might need a minute or two of walking to reach them.

virgin trains standard class

Above is what the seating looks like. There are four seats across in standard class. The train itself is quite narrow so there isn’t a lot of space.

Don’t bother bringing luggage with you, especially at busy times, there’s hardly any space. The luggage rack above the seat is a joke. The space starts off fairly small in the middle of the carriage, and gets smaller and smaller as you get to the ends of the carriage. At the ends of the carriage you’d be lucky to get your coat in there.

There are some luggage spaces in the carriage, but competition for this space can be fierce. If you’ve ever been in standard class before Christmas you’ll know that bringing anything bigger than what you can fit on the floor in front of you, or on your lap is a bad idea.

At quieter times you won’t have problems, but it is sometimes hard to know whether it will be quiet or busy.

If you book on the Virgin Trains website you’ll get an automatic seat reservation. There is a display above each seat which says whether it is reserved or not. If you are lucky then you’ll find your seat unoccupied. If not you’ll have to ask a grumpy looking passenger to move on.

In standard class you’ll find a carriage where you can buy drinks, snacks and magazines. The shop closes about half an hour before reaching the final destination (they seem to need a lot of time to check the stock and count the takings).

There is also usually a quiet carriage in standard class where you are not supposed to use your phone, or play music at audible volume. People still do though, and I’ve never seen a ticket inspector do anything about it.

The 1st class return journey

First class is a bit more spacious. There are only three seats across in 1st class. Other than the extra space there isn’t much different about the interior of the carriage.

virgin trains first class

During the weekdays they’ll serve you a complimentary meal if you are travelling at the right time.

At the weekend you’ll have to make do with a complimentary tea, drink, and snack. I got a bottle of fizzy water, and a pack of two cookies.

In 1st class there is free WiFi. It is also available in standard class but you’ll have to pay for it there. As with most public WiFi the connection is unencrypted so be careful what you look at, as other (bad!) people could intercept your internet traffic if they wanted. Stick to standard website browsing, and only enter login details, or send sensitive information if you are using an encrypted (HTTPS/SSL) website. Ideally you should use VPN software to keep your sent or received traffic confidential.

On arriving back in London my carriage was very near to the station exit so I got out fast, whereas those in standard class had to walk much further along the platform.

Normally 1st class is much more expensive than standard class so I’d say it isn’t worth it, but if you can get a 1st class ticket for just a few pounds more than your standard class ticket then it is worth a go.

Is it possible to get removed from this junk post list?

Friday, March 5th, 2010

I’ve used Interflora in the past when I’ve needed to get flowers for various people. As a result of this I ended up on Interflora’s postal mailing list. Every so often I would get mailing in the post advertising their services. Especially around the times of flower giving events such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

junk mail post

I’m not a bit fan of getting junk mail so I thought I’d send a quick message to them to ask them to stop it. I used the Interflora Contact page to send them my request. This I did on the 1st August 2009.

As always when contacting a company I make a record of it just in case I need to make a further complaint later on. I record the details on my telephone call logging spreadsheet. Despite the name it works well for recording details of emails, and letters that I send as well.

Despite my request, later in the year I received another junk mailing from Interflora, this one saying ‘Trust Interflora to deliver a smile this Christmas’. Their junk mail didn’t put a smile on my face!

On the 29th January 2010 I sent them a second complaint through their contact page. This time I got a message back from one of their customer service people apologising for the inconvenience caused.

Now after two complaints they are bound to have removed me from their mailing list. Right?

Wrong. Come February 2010 I received another one suggesting I send someone flowers for their birthday. And in March 2010 I got another one reminding me about Mother’s Day.

So it is now 4th March 2010 and I have sent them my third complaint. Will I finally be removed from their mailing list? I’m not hopeful, and I’ll update this post if I get any more unwanted post.

Managing holiday money with an Excel burn down chart

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

If you go on a short holiday then it should be pretty easy to manage your holiday money. It isn’t too hard to track how quickly your foreign currency is running out when you are only abroad for a week or two.

If you are going on holiday for a number of months then it becomes a bit harder. When I recently went on holiday for three months I thought being able to record my available currency in the form of a burn down chart would be a useful thing to do.

I ended up creating an excel spreadsheet which when filled in gave me three lines on a graph.

holiday money burndown chart

  1. The first straight line (pink) goes down from the total amount of foreign currency on the first day of my holiday to 0 on the last day of my currency. This line shows where my currency reserves should be on average each day in order to spend all the money I took with me.
  2. The second line (blue) is the actual amount of foreign currency that I have left. A few times a week I would count up how much money I had left, and enter the data into the Excel spreadsheet. This would then update the second line. If this line is above the straight line then I’m under spending (on average), if the line is above the straight line then I’m over spending. The concept of under or over spending is of course ‘on average’. There may be good reasons why your spending during your holiday might be unevenly spread.
  3. The third line (yellow) is plotted against the axis on the right of the chart. This shows how much currency I have left per day on average.

Using the holiday currency burn down spread sheet

To make it easier to see how to use the spread sheet I have put a load of example data in the yellow cells. When you understand it you will have to remove the example data and enter your real data. Don’t delete anything in the red cells as these cells contain the formulas which will make it all work.

holiday money burn down spreadsheet

I have put comments in cells A2, B2, H2, I2 and I3 explaining what you need to put into these cells to get the spread sheet setup for your own holiday.

Then all you need to do is update it every few days and you’ll be able to see how fast your holiday money is burning down.

Download the holiday money spreadsheet from here (12kb).

Photos of damaged letter

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Once again the postal service have failed to deliver. Well – that’s not strictly true. They did deliver – but just look at what I got.

royal mail fail damaged letter front

How on earth did they manage to deliver a letter with this much damage? It is crumpled and ripped, with part of the envelope missing. There is a big hole in the envelope at the bottom left. And if you look at the letter from the back, you can see that the whole top of the letter is open.

royal mail fail damaged letter back

There is no way the sender would have posted a letter like that so I can only image that it was mangled in one of their sorting machines, or got ripped between the growing number of parcels that post men are having to deliver.

Here are some other postal service FAILs that I regularly encounter. You may be familiar this list yourself.

  • Post being lost and never arriving at my address.
  • Post for my address being delivered to another address (there may be a link between the first one and this one!).
  • Letters for other addresses being delivered to my address.
  • Items of post that clearly say ‘Do not bend’, being folded to make them fit through the letter box.
  • ’Sorry you were out’ cards being left without being properly filled in making it hard to collect the item at the depot.

When these kinds of problem happen so regularly it is no wonder that people are looking for ways to avoid using the post if it is not necessary.

If you post was damaged after being delivered by the Royal Mail, they have some information about the claims process for damaged post on their website.

Debit card delivery problems

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

A few weeks before leaving the country for a three month holiday I got a letter telling me I’d get a new debit card soon. Obviously I didn’t want it to be delivered in my absence so I went to the branch and told them that I didn’t want a new card to be sent out, and that I would re-order a card when I was back. The staff member did some typing away on the computer. I was assured by the staff member that no card would be delivered whilst I was away.

visa debit card fail

On returning from holiday I found that a new debit card had been delivered. I tried it and found that the card didn’t work. They had posted me the card and it was cancelled by the time I got home.

I went to the branch and waited patiently in branch for 20 minutes without being acknowledged or being told there would be a wait, whilst the customer service guy dealt with another customer.

When he finally served me he said that the card could not be re-activated. He said a replacement card would be ordered the next day and delivered to branch as I’d asked. I’ve had cards delivered to this branch many times before so I didn’t expect any problems.

A few days later a delivery man called at my flat, and gave me a letter. Inside was a NatWest debit card. I’d asked for it to be delivered to the branch, but here was a debit card arriving at my door.

I phoned the card activation line and they activated my card.

I went to the cash machine, put my card in, and typed in the PIN number. I got a message saying the card had not been activated and was now cancelled.

How can this be – I just activated it!

I phoned their customer care line and told them what had happened. The lady was very polite but seemed a little confused as the number of the card in my hand did not match the number on her computer. I asked her if she could see my card on the system. She could, but it was not the latest card!

After a bit of talking we figured out what had happened. The guy in my local branch had in fact ordered two cards for me at the same time. The first had gone to my home address, and the second was going to be sent to the branch.

When I called up the card activation line the lady activated the latest card (the one going to the branch, which I had not yet received). This was a reasonable thing for her to do as she wouldn’t expect there to have been two cards ordered for me. So the card which arrived at my home had not been activated which is why it got cancelled when I put it in the machine.

I said I was worried as their security system of activating the card when it arrives in the customers hand had not worked. Because of the mistake made by the bank employee my card was now active, but still in the post.

She said she would investigate and someone would call me back in the week. I gave her my mobile number as I was going to be out at work all week.

A few days later when I got home I saw a message on my home answering machine. It was someone from NatWest. Despite me telling her to phone me on my mobile she had called me back on my home phone. The message from the lady said that she would call me back tomorrow and she left a reference number.

I called the number and had to wait about 10 minutes to get through. I gave my reference number. The man who answered it gave me what information he could. He said he would add a note to the file telling the lady to call me back on my mobile.

The next day I arrived home and found another message on my answering machine. The lady had called me back on my home phone. It seems that telling them to call you back on your mobile is of no use!

I didn’t bother calling back this time. I decided I’d just wait until the weekend and see if my card turned up in the branch. During the week I got another message on my home phone telling me the card was on its way to the branch.

At the weekend I went to the branch, and finally was presented with a working debit card :)

Here’s a summary of what went wrong.

  • They sent me a card whilst I was out of the country despite them assuring me that they wouldn’t send one.
  • On returning from holiday I asked for a replacement card to be ordered and sent to the branch. They ordered two cards for me. One sent to my home and one to the branch.
  • They activated the wrong card when I called their card activation line.
  • I was called back on my home phone when I’d asked to be called on my mobile.
  • When I called them back and told them again to call me on my mobile, they again called me on my home phone.

NatWest got there in the end (the staff were always polite and helpful with when ever I dealt with them), but there were far too many little human, and procedural errors along the way. I’m still a customer though!

Incomplete banknote from cash machine

Monday, February 15th, 2010

What would you do if you went to a cash machine to get £20 and got the below two bank notes?

NatWest cash machine banknotes

This is what I got when I used a cash machines in London recently. One of the £10 notes is fine, the other is only about 3/4 complete.

This obviously isn’t good as no shop will accept a note like this (unless they don’t spot it). You won’t be able to use it in a machine – they check that you feed them a complete note.

The easiest option is to take the note to the bank whose cash machine it is and ask for a replacement. As it is their fault you have a dud note they should give you a replacement – unless they feel like being awkward. If is very hard to prove that this bank note came from their machine so if they feel like being awkward there’s not much you can do.

Failing that you could take the bank note into another bank and ask for a replacement. Just be polite and hopefully you’ll get what you want.

Your chance of success probably depends on how complete the note is. If the note has both serial numbers, the silver thread, and is over half complete then you’ll probably be ok.

If you have less than half a note then you won’t get anything – if it was possible to get a full £10 from just half a £10 then everyone would be ripping their banknotes in half to double their money!

If you really can’t get any luck from your bank or another bank then you can send your note to the Bank of England. You can fill in a Mutilated Notes claim form and post your note to them. Of course there is a risk that it will get lost / stolen in the post, and it will cost you an envelope, a stamp and some time, but if you have exhausted all other options then give this a go. The currently replace about £40 million worth of bank notes each year.


I had to wait until the weekend before I was able to visit my local NatWest branch but when I did they exchanged the incomplete banknote for a complete one with no fuss. I just told them that one of their cash machine had given me a £10 note with a bit missing from the end, and asked them to swap it for a complete one.

Costs of surgical procedures and operations

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

If you are due to go into hospital to have surgery then you might be interested in how much it costs regardless of whether you are going NHS or private.

In can be hard to find out what your treatment actually costs but I’ve found out that many of the major health insurance companies publish lists of how much they will pay your hospital for your surgery.

As the health insurance companies have special deals with the hospitals the prices they list will be a lot cheaper that it would be if you paid for the surgery yourself, but it will give you an idea of how much your treatment actually costs the hospital.

You can even compare how much each insurer pays for your treatment. This is because a standard classification of procedures has been created by the Clinical Coding and Schedule Development (CCSD) group.

If you know the code of your procedure then you can compare prices using the insurers schedule of fees. However note that some of the schedules just list the surgeon / anaesthetist’s fees, whereas other include the total cost including hospital fees.

You can easily search for your surgery using either the CCSD code or just by typing in the procedure name.

For example W8520 is the code for a type of arthroscopy of the knee. Currently Cigna would pay up to £575 for the surgeon’s fee and £250 for the anaesthetist’s fee. This is a total of £850 for the surgery.

If you paid for this surgery privately then it could cost you around £3000 – but note that this price includes all your hospital fees as well (and of course some profit for the hospital!).