The attendant refused to give change or accept my overpayment when I offered to hand over 50p. In fact the best he could come up with was the suggestion to "crawl under the barrier"! Naturally I gave that a miss; thankfully a kind fellow passenger came to the rescue supplying us with the right change.
In the old days, the price of using a public loo was a penny, or even 2p in some cases. But the closure of over 600 public toilets within 18 months, according to figures from the British Toilet Association, means that in most cases you need to pay to get through the door.
Most expensive toilets
These days 20p a time isn’t uncommon although the most expensive one I’ve come across is the community-run loo at Kinlochleven in the Scottish Highlands, which according to the British Toilet Association costs £1.
Within London you can expect to pay up to 50p at some of the City of London’s 90 public loos or within some tube stations. A tidy profit considering Water UK (which represents the major water suppliers) says it costs just 2p per flush.
Other pricey public toilets include those opposite Westminster Abbey, which charge 50p a time. Westminster City Council says this is because they’re managed and cleaned by a separate company.
Pop to the loo at a station and you’ll pay 30p a visit at most mainline stations including Euston, Waterloo, Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Glasgow Central and Edinburgh Waverley. These are among seventeen stations run by Network Rail which says all toilets are staffed and have change machines for both notes and coins if you’re caught short on the cash front. Other station toilets are usually run by the local rail franchise company.
Other ‘higher than average’ charges I’ve come across include 40p in Scarborough and York, 30p in Southport and 30p for the public loos run by Perth and Kinross Council.
However, the British Toilet Association insists the charges are good value. Managing Director Raymond Boyd Martin told us: "We're getting extremely good value for our pennies and receiving a service that [councils have] no legal responsibility to provide."
Have you got the right change?
As I found in Brighton, you often need the right change. Popping to a shop for change may seem the obvious answer, but most shops won’t ‘give’ change and even if you buy something, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the exact coinage you need.
Plus from a financial perspective if you’ve had to buy a paper or bar of chocolate this puts up the price of your visit!
Why not nip into a coffee shop?
Cafes and coffee shops like Costa and Starbucks often flag up the fact that toilets are for ‘customer use’ only.
I recently spotted one Costa branch printing the entry code for its toilet door on till receipts. It says around a dozen of its busiest stores operate this system to ensure genuine customers get to use the facilities.
Of course you could just pop in and wait for someone to come out and hold the door for you, but otherwise it could cost you around £2 a time if you buy a coffee to gain entry.
If you’re in a department store like John Lewis, BHS, Marks & Spencer or even a supermarket you’ll usually find free customer toilets. And even at Harrods the facilities are free, but if you’re in a small high street popping into a big store may not be an option.
Community toilet schemes
There’s lots of these across the country including schemes in Cardiff, Chester, Gloucester, London, Northampton, Stockport and Sheffield.
Local businesses, including pubs, cafes and fast food outlets (which normally have toilets for customers’ use only) display specially-designed logos advertising membership of the scheme. This means anyone can pop in and use the facilities without the fear of being turned out or asked to buy something.
Within London, Richmond was the first borough to introduce this and there’s now over 100 local businesses including KFC and Wimpy offering free toilet facilities. Outlets are paid a small amount by the local council to help maintain toilets.
Leaflets with details of community schemes in your area are available from local councils, libraries and tourist information offices.
Disabled toilets are kept locked in some places so users should apply for a ‘Radar’ key which unlocks around 9,000 toilets across the country. It was the bright idea of the Royal Association of Disability and Rehabilitation (Radar), which is now part of Disability Rights UK and sells keys for £4. You don’t have to be physically disabled to get a key; people with conditions like diabetes, which means they may need to go frequently, can also apply.
Some local authorities also provide these keys. You can download a smartphone app for £4.99 from the app store to find your nearest disabled toilet.