Published: 13:33, 24 June 2021
| Updated: 14:18, 24 June 2021
The way we buy fuel at pay-at-pump petrol stations is changing – and it's leaving some motorists frustrated.
The small £1 charge that drivers used to pay to have their debit or credit card approved by forecourt payment stations, is gradually being scrapped in favour of a £100 pre-authorisation check.
This means when you pull your vehicle up at a pay-at-pump petrol station and enter your card's pin ahead of refuelling, the bank will now ring fence £100 of the available money in your account.
Once you have finished taking as much petrol as you want, return the pump, and checkout, the actual amount you have spent on petrol is fed back to the bank and only the cost of the fuel you bought will then be debited from your account and the temporarily frozen money released, which should happen immediately.
The aim of pre-authorisation checks is to ensure customers have enough money in their account to be able to afford to pay for petrol, which will open the service up to more people's cards, alongside efforts to crack down on theft and fraud.
Drivers who don't have £100 available when they enter their card and pin on the forecourt may find a smaller amount of money is authorised to be spent – for example £50 – and the pump will consequently release a smaller amount of fuel.
But the change to pre-authorisation arrangements, first trialled in UK petrol stations in 2018, is leading to frustration among some drivers, who claim the held money isn't always being released straight away, and are taking to social media to express their bemusement.
One driver said on Facebook: "I couldn't work out why I was being charged so much! It's been 7 days and they have still held an extra £58 which I'm waiting to get back."
Another explained: "My husband put £30 in and they held £100, took two days for the proper amount to be deducted and the remaining money to be credited again."
Others question if the process is unfair on households who perhaps cannot afford to have money they've not spent held for any length of time.
The majority of pay-at-pump petrol stations are run by supermarkets, which point out that the changes being rolled out are the responsibility of the banking sector, including Visa and Mastercard, and not managed by retailers.
In feedback to followers on Twitter, Tesco says it expects available funds to always be re-released to accounts within the hour but customers experiencing issues must speak to their bank or card provider.
Sainsbury's says it has the new system at a 'small amount' of its petrol stations and has a guide on its website walking people through the changes.
But in acknowledging potential problems, the guide says: "Although the ring-fenced amount on a customer’s card should be released at the point of completing the transaction, there are occasions that this may not happen as quickly as the customer expects.
"In these circumstances customers should contact their issuing bank for guidance."
The process for freezing a set amount of money before purchasing fuel is commonplace in Europe and in most parts of the United States.
The roll-out here, which was delayed by the pandemic, will eventually see all pay-at-pump stations swap from the £1 authorisation fee to the new £100 Automated Fuel Dispenser (AFD) transaction.
Both Visa and Mastercard say they are working with retailers and banks to improve the experience at forecourts.
A Visa spokesman said: "When you insert or tap your card at a self-service pump, your bank will now temporarily reserve an amount from your available balance while you fill up. This could be up to £100 (a standard tank of petrol). But not to worry, once you’ve finished filling up, this will be updated and you’ll only be charged for the amount of petrol you bought.
"This should happen almost instantly but occasionally it may take a little longer. In this case, please don’t worry. You will only be charged for what you have purchased. The funds-check will never be taken from your account. Please contact your bank if you have any concerns."
A new greener fuel is also arriving at petrol forecourts this summer but it is not compatible with all cars. To understand more about the changes click here.