Questions of Cash: August 2015

Q. I was interested to read of pre-payment cards not working at European toll booths and self-service petrol stations (Questions of Cash, 4 July). I had the same problem with my Metro Bank debit card.  I took the matter up with the bank to find out why and asked it to alert customers. It refuses to admit the problem, or that there are specific categories of outlet affected. It suggested it might be my fault and that I should always carry another bank’s card.  It is odd that a bank should not be aware of the situation, or admit its card is not accepted in particular locations, especially when it promotes its account for use abroad. TG, Surrey

A. Metro Bank was still in denial when we made contact. Its spokeswoman said: “It appears the issue is specific to MasterCard ‘offline’ usages in certain areas, so isn’t isolated to Metro and may be something they’re best placed to answer.  But when we spoke to MasterCard, it batted the issue back to Metro. Its spokesman said: “It’s hard for us to comment on this issue; Metro would need to. Plus the issue of offline terminals isn’t unique to MasterCard. Where terminals are offline [such as some self-service points, like road tolls), if a card is always programmed to go online for an authorisation, the transaction may be declined … If customers have an issue, they should speak to their card issuer.”

To summarise, there are likely to be problems with several types of plastic when using card readers that do not have online connections.  Specifically, merchants without those links are likely to refuse to accept a card pre-loaded with an amount of cash, as they won’t know if the balance has been used up  There is a similar issue with cards that have been issued with basic bank accounts, or other accounts where the cardholder does not have permission to go overdrawn.  But problems can occur even with other cards where there has been a sequence of transactions conducted offline. MasterCard says issuers may require some transactions to be conducted periodically online to enable cards to continue to be used. This provides reassurance that the plastic is not being used fraudulently.  Anyone going on holiday and expecting to use any type of card should be aware of the potential problems and could check with the issuer on any restrictions on offline transactions.  Unfortunately, it seems that card issuers’ customer service centres may not always have the answers.

Q. When my mother died, I found an old Post Office Savings Bank account book. It was opened in my name in 1961, when I was five. I have moved several times since.  The savings book was made up to 20 December 1968, at which point it contained £2 9s 4d. I phoned National Savings & Investments and was advised to send it a copy of the account book for it to be updated and the account closed.  I have now received a cheque for £5.19 and a letter saying my savings were moved to a residual account, where the interest rate is 0.1 per cent. This seems wrong, when the original account had interest of 2.5 per cent. BM, Sussex

A. The Post Office Savings Bank became National Savings in 1969 and no further payments could be made into former accounts after 2004.  Balances were transferred into National Savings & Investments residual accounts in 2008, receiving a poor rate of interest.  A mistake was made when your account was transferred and six pence omitted. To compensate for this, you will receive a goodwill payment of £10. This, at least, represents a good return for you.  Unfortunately, it is common practice for institutions to move dormant accounts on to low interest rates. It is therefore important to monitor accounts to ensure they are subject to competitive interest rates.

Q. Like other readers (Questions of Cash, 8 May), I ordered online at Eco Green Store and have not received the goods. Can I get my money back? RS, Liverpool

A. Woocoo Ltd, which was trading as Eco Green Store, has gone into liquidation. The liquidator is Kelly Goodman of Leading Corporate Recovery. She said: “Customers should contact their card issuer or PayPal for refund queries.”  Anyone with a claim that cannot be processed this way should email Leading Corporate Recovery at

Q. A friend who works in insurance says that a policy is only valid if the person paying for it is personally covered by the policy. Is this correct? As part of my divorce settlement, I pay my ex-wife’s car insurance. I also pay the premium for my ex stepdaughter’s travel insurance. AN, Manchester

A. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says it is possible to take out a policy on behalf of another person in some circumstances – and is normal with life insurance – but that different insurance companies may have specific rules on this.  The ABI recommends that you discuss the position with the insurers concerned.

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