Some petrol pumps in the UK have started requiring a £99 deposit before you can fill up your vehicle and pay at the pump with a credit card or debit card.
In some cases, if your card issuer doesn’t approve the £99 deposit, you won’t be able to pay at the pump -and if there isn’t a human around to take your money, then you won’t be able to fill up at all.
One customer, who refuelled at Asda, claimed that the £99 deposit wasn’t returned to her bank account for two days.
The deposit – which is more accurately known as a pre-authorisation charge or authorisation hold – can be refunded within minutes, or it can take a few days.
The new £99 pre-authorisation charge on petrol pumps wasn’t instigated by Asda or other petrol station owners, however. Visa and Mastercard changed the rules last year, to ensure that consumers have the ability to pay for their fuel.
Pay-at-pump systems have always required some kind of pre-authorisation (that’s why you enter your PIN before you pump), but previously it was a cursory £1 to make sure that your card is valid. As you’d expect, this led some customers to fill their tanks and then have their card declined when they didn’t have the necessary funds available. Except for vehicles with exceedingly large petrol tanks, a £99 pre-authorisation charge should prevent that from happening.
The pre-authorisation system isn’t perfect, though. If the pre-auth is done correctly, you should only see one charge on your statement: the actual amount of fuel purchased. Problems can arise when a company places an authorisation hold on your account (for £99, in this example) – and then also performs a separate transaction for the actual purchase price. You then have to wait a few days for the authorisation hold to drop off your credit card or debit card before those funds are available to you again.
Another potential problem for debit card users is that some basic bank accounts – which don’t have an overdraft facility – don’t support pre-authorisation charges. More than five million people in the UK have a basic bank account.
A spokesperson for Mastercard said: “If customers don’t have the required funds in their bank account, a further step is available to petrol stations which allows them to check what available funds a customer has, enabling a lower value of fuel to be dispensed. While some customers may see a request for a higher amount than the fuel they bought – perhaps on their mobile banking app – these funds are not taken from their account. Only the value of the petrol dispensed is withdrawn.”
The new £99 authorisation hold will eventually make its way to all pay-at-pump machines in the UK, but clearly the supermarkets and major petrol stations aren’t in a major rush to roll out the update.
If you’ve filled up your tank and you’re now stuck with a £99 hold on your account, your best recourse is to phone up your card issuer (i.e. Barclaycard, Natwest, HSBC, etc.) and explain the situation. You probably won’t have much luck with the supermarket or petrol station owner.