Questions of Cash: July 2015

Q. I was attracted to the Post Office Travel Money Plus Card after reading on a Post Office leaflet that it was “a perfect travel companion”. The leaflet said the card could be used “wherever MasterCard is accepted”.  So I purchased a card and loaded it with £800 in euros. The card came with terms and conditions that stated it could not be used at self-service petrol stations. This made me suspect it could not be used at autoroute toll booths, which was confirmed by a call to its customer services.  I bought the card specifically for a motoring holiday with our caravan. Fuel and autoroute tolls are a major part of our costs. For us this card is not “the perfect travel companion”. We feel deceived.  Are these restrictions common to all pre-paid cards?  To add insult to injury, having used my HSBC Visa credit card to pay for my travel card I was astounded to find I was charged interest for this. MG.

A. You were charged interest on the transaction as it is treated by the card issuer as a cash withdrawal, rather than the purchase of a servic  As you have discovered, pre-paid cards have restricted use.  Specifically, they can be used only where the payment terminal has an ‘on-line’ connection, which enables the vendor to know that the card holds sufficient funds for the transaction.  The Post Office tells us that toll booths and self-service petrol stations sometimes use off-line terminals for card payments and so cannot be used by pre-paid cards.  A spokeswoman for the Post Office explains: “The vast majority of card terminals around the world are online. However, some retailers have offline card terminals, which means they are unable to check the balance of the pre-paid card on the spot. The Post Office has no choice but to decline these transactions.  The card can be used inside petrol stations but not at  self-service petrol pumps, which operate off line,  or at some toll booths for the same reason. Our advice is always that people take a mix of cash and plastic to cover all eventualities.”   The Post Office is happy to cancel the card you bought and provide you with a full refund if you wish.

The same difficulties apply with other pre-paid cards.  The AA also offers prepaid cards for travel holidays.  Its spokesman comments: “Pre-paid cards work in a slightly different way to debit or credit cards in that they have a finite resource to make payments.  Therefore when a transaction is made, the system has to confirm that funds are available to make the payment.”  He said this blocks their use at “remote toll booths… some self-serve fuel pumps…  and [this] can very occasionally happen at an ATM ….  particularly old ones.”  He added that his experience, and that of his colleagues, was that pre-paid cards are usually accepted by toll booths, for example in France and Austria.

Q.  My wife has applied to transfer £1060 of her unused income tax personal allowance to me [through the new Marriage Allowance]. She has received two emails from HMRC saying they are processing it. But so far – nothing! Do you know what’s going on?  SG.

A.  A spokesman for HMRC responds:  ”Marriage Allowance is one of the new government services being delivered online by default. We expect most people will want to apply online because it is quick and easy, and can be done at a time most convenient to them. As Marriage Allowance is a new digital service, we are inviting people who have registered their interest to use the service gradually, to ensure that it works really well for everybody before the service opens to the public in the summer.  Rolling out the service gradually has enabled us to receive and act on feedback in the first few weeks by making changes to the service. Everyone who has registered their interest in MA will receive an invitation to apply, and will get the full financial benefit of the transfer no matter when in the year they apply. Your reader should look out for an email from HMRC, which will contain a link to take them to the application service.”

Q.   We are loyal Sky customers, using them for home phone, broadband and TV for nearly two years.   We are paying them a lot of money, with bills around £110 a month.  I phoned Sky in March to say that we were out of contract and we wanted to leave.  Sky offered to reduce our bill to £86 a month, including an upgrade of our broadband to Sky Fibre Pro with 78 mb of data, in place of the standard fibre we were on.  We have still not received this upgrade more than three months later.  I have phoned countless times, spoken to many Sky representatives – many of them have been very unhelpful and not bothering to call us back.  Sky’s one helpful operative told us that he had spoken to numerous departments and submitted several ‘fault forms’, which also have not achieved anything. I’m at the end of my tether with this.  WH.

A.  Sky failed to process the agreed upgrade because of a technical error.  Sky accepts the matter should have been resolved much sooner.  Your account has been credited with the amounts you overpaid as a result of the delay in making the changes and this will be deducted from your bill.  A spokeswoman says: “We’re very sorry for the inconvenience [the reader] experienced in getting his upgrade to Sky Fibre Pro. He is now receiving the right fibre package and we’ve made sure his agreed offer started from the day he was connected.”   We expressed surprise to Sky at the size of your monthly bill.  It said that this was because of the wide range of service extras delivered on your account, including Sky Sports and Sky Moves.  It adds that it has provided a number of discounts to bring down the size of your bill.

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