London travel: How to claim forgotten and owed cash on Oyster and contactless cards

From deposits to unfished journeys to delay refunds, you could be owed some money back from TFL on your Oyster and contactless payment cards.

The BBC reported this week that there’s almost £400million of cash sitting on Oyster cards that haven’t been used for a year or more. That’s a huge amount! 

I’m not surprised. A few years ago, before we moved out of London, Becky and I realised we hadn’t used our Oyster cards for years as we’d moved over to contactless. So we cashed our Oysters back in for a total of £5 each. Easy money that was never going to be used.

And this wasn’t the only time TFL owed me cash. From card reading errors through to delayed journeys, I often claimed back money to my payment cards – both Oyster and contactless.

Here’s how you can claim back your money, and a few other ways to make sure you’re not owed any cash or travelling in London.

How to claim back your Oyster deposits

With more than half of payments now made via contactless cards, it’s likely that if you’re a Londoner that you’ve got your old Oyster just sitting about with at least a fiver sitting on it. You might even have more than one!

And if you’ve visited London at all since 2003 when the cards were introduced you might have picked one up too since journeys were much cheaper with one than via a paper ticket.

Half of the £400 million in unused cash is made up of a £5 deposit. You had to pay this when you first got a card. So if you have an Oyster card at home it will have £5 on it.

The rest of the leftover sum is pre-paid balances, which averages £3.46 per Oyster cardholder. Obviously you might not have anything extra if you didn’t top-up the last time the balance was zero, though at the same time there are 784 cards with a maximum balance of £90 sitting on them according to TFL figures. 

To get the money back you have a few options. If you have registered your Oyster card you can do this online via your Oyster account. Your card will be cancelled once you do this. If not, then you can do it at a ticket machine as long as the balance is less than £10 (not including the £5 deposit). Failing that you’ll need to call TFL.

How to claim back for incomplete journeys

Though the tap-in, tap-out system has made journeys so much easier in London, it’s not perfect. I had times where card readers didn’t work or turned off to ease congestion (and gates were left open as a result) which meant I wasn’t able to show a full journey. I also had a few occasions where I mistakenly used different payment methods at each end (usually when I was using Apple Pay on my phone).

When this happens TFL estimates where your journey began or ended, and there’s a good chance it’ll cost you more than your actual journey.

To fix this you must have registered your Oyster or contactless card with your TFL account. Once this is done you can go in and input where you should have tapped in. Refunds to Oyster will be in the form of prepaid credit, while on contactless it’ll be refunded back to your card.

You have eight weeks to correct a journey, but you’ll only be able to claim three times each calendar month.

Apple / Google Pay warning

A quick aside here if you use your phone to tap in and out. I used to do this on my commute, but occasionally I’d use the same linked card itself. Logic says this shouldn’t make a difference, but it sadly does. That’s because they are treated by TFL as different payment methods. 

This can lead to incomplete journeys, or reduce the chances your total spend will get capped each day and week. So stick to one payment method.

How to claim for delayed journeys

If a journey is delayed by more than 15 minutes you’re entitled to that fare back. In my experience the delays always tended to be about 13 minutes!!

The delay has to have been within TFL’s control, which means it won’t payout if you’ve been delayed due to a strike, security alert, bad weather, planned engineering works or a customer incident (such as someone getting ill on a train).

But you will be able to claim if the delay has been down to things like a signal failure, broken train or non-planned engineering works.

Again, the easiest way to do this is via your online account, so make sure you register your cards if you haven’t already.  claim 

Other places to find lost and forgotten cash

As I’ve written about before, Oyster cards aren’t the only place you could find some long lost cash. From loyalty schemes to cashback sites, it’s worth having a look at what you’ve forgotten.


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