A quarter of a billion pounds to be claimed!


No, this is not a pitch for claims for mis-sold PPI.

£223,392,863 – that is a huge sum of money, and travellers in London have unwittingly loaned it to Transport for London. But the good news is that they can claim it back.

So where does that figure come from, and why is Caroline Pidgeon, Lib Dem London Assembly member, so bothered about it? Caroline is also Chair of London’s Transport Committee and this is not the first time she has drawn our attention to the nest egg that Transport for London is sitting on.

The issue is the level of unspent cash on Oyster cards. These contactless cards can be topped up in advance and then used on buses, trains and tube trains throughout Greater London. They offer cheaper fares than walk-up tickets so almost all travellers use them, including the 3 million daily commuters.

Apparently there are over 41 million dormant cards – that is cards that have not been used for over a year. And between them they hold credit of over £200 million which the owners could easily claim back. Of course, the average amount per card is only £5 – although some will undoubtedly hold substantially larger amounts – but the total is staggering.

Back in 2013:

Caroline Pidgeon reveals £53 million unclaimed refunds on Oyster cards

And the amount stashed away has risen by £50 million in the last 12 months alone.

My guess is that the vast majority of those 41 million dormant Oyster cards belong to occasional visitors to London. I always have a couple at home which I make available to anyone who comes to stay. Sometimes they may not be used for many months – at present I have around £20 credit on each card. But I also imagine that many cards belong to people who are unlikely to use them again – tourists and other visitors who didn’t fully use the amount they had pre-loaded on them, not to mention owners who have passed away.

So Transport for London has been able to take advantage of a considerable sum of money that has been ‘loaned’ to it, and no doubt has budgeted under the assumption that a large proportion will never be reclaimed.

Caroline says:

TfL needs to run a campaign promoting how the public can easily claim back their own money.

It should also stop peddling the misleading claim that many people are not claiming back their deposits and money left on Oyster cards as they wish to keep them as a souvenir of their visit to London.

Even if this is true that visitors wish permanently to keep their Oyster cards there is no reason why TfL cannot allow people to claim back their own money and still keep hold of their cards.

So how do you claim a refund? You can do so online but only if you have set up an Oyster account, which is unlikely if you are an occasional visitor. You can get a refund at a Tube station ticket machine, but that is limited to £10 plus the original £5 deposit – and, of course, you have to be able to get to a London Tube station.

A third option is to phone customer services on 0343 222 1234.  Calls to 034 numbers are usually free at certain times – at least TfL does not charge you to phone to reclaim what it owes you. But there will be phone charges for anyone outside the UK.

Finally you can claim by post to TfL Customer Services, 4th Floor, 14 Pier Walk, London SE10 0ES.  You do have to send in your card so this strikes me as a rather risky enterprise, especially if your card has a substantial sum on it.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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  • There’s a lump of credit on mine, and I’ve not been to London for a couple of years. But it’s too much hassle to take the money off and put it back on next time I’m in the Smoke.

    I have a bunch of these cards for various parts of the UK, each with ten or twenty quid on. Must be getting on for a hundred across them all.

    Can we not please merge them all into Oyster so I only need one balance instead of lots? There’s a scheme called ITSO that’s supposed to be making them intercompatible, and it works for bus passes for pensioners and disabled people, but it won’t let me load some cash onto a single card and use it everywhere.

  • Peter Parsons 6th Aug '16 - 5:03pm

    Contactless credit and debit cards can be used in the same way as pay-as-you-go Oyster cards and at the same rates, so unless someone specifically needs an Oyster card (e.g. for certain types of Travelcard), it’s worth looking at using contactless and refunding the money on your Oyster.

  • Stevan Rose 7th Aug '16 - 3:09pm

    The idiots that run TFGM are introducing smart card ticketing across Gtr Manchester but seem to be inventing their own when surely the quickest and easiest would have been to adopt Oyster and all its tried and tested technology and processes. On my occasional forays to London I use an Oyster I’ve now misplaced with £15 on it but used a contactless last time and it worked great. There’s a huge amount of public money being thrown away duplicating systems whilst public transport users are being inconvenienced by incompatible systems. How about a Lib Dem policy for one national smart ticketing system?

  • Andrew Owens 7th Aug '16 - 7:04pm

    Stevan: same problem here in Australia. Five cities, five unrelated cards, four different technologies developed at considerable cost to the taxpayer. When I travel I end up taking all of them with me, it gets rather silly.

  • Christine Headley 7th Aug '16 - 11:10pm

    Contactless – using your usual debit card – is surely the way to go. If you haven’t got one, it is surely worth while asking your bank for a card that does it. Saves a lot of bother, I have found.

  • From looking at the TfL data for Oyster cards and contactless payments (see https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/oyster-card ), I have difficulty in seeing the point of Caroline’s take on this, other than as an excuse to gain media coverage.

    Firstly, the £223m figure breaks down to £112m of deposits on 41m cards – which suggests the vast majority of dormant cards are pre-2011, when the deposit was increased from £3 to £5 and £111m of credit – giving an average per card balance of £2.66 which has changed little over the years.

    So the real cause of the year-on-year increase in customer monies held by TfL has been the year-on-year increase in the number of cards “in use”.

    What seems to be missing from the TfL data are metrics on cards cancelled through the customer being refunded. According to the Evening Standard, 8.2m cards were cancelled in 2013 and 16m in 2015. These figures seem to suggest that there is no real need for TfL to undertake an adverting campaign as customers seem well aware of the refund option.

    Therefore, I think Caroline is missing the real problem here, namely given the non-expiry of credit and the refund guarantee, the increasing amounts of Oyster customer monies TfL are having to manage is an inevitable consequence (currently TfL are holding on to £403m of such monies including the £223m Caroline highlights).

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