An estimated 1,500 drivers have been left out of pocket – some to the tune of hundreds of pounds – after their contactless cards were repeatedly debited by a council’s parking payment machines.
Some motorists in Worcester said they were left overdrawn and unable to pay bills after a software glitch meant they were charged many times over last week.
Giselle Naylor contacted the Guardian on discovering her debit card had been charged 19 times after she used it to pay a £2.70 parking fee on a shopping trip to the city. “At least two of my friends have had the same experience,” she said.
“We’re fortunate in that the loss of £50 will not cause us serious hardship – but for some people that’s the cost of a week’s food. It exposes a serious flaw in contactless payments, where a one-off payment morphs into a financial haemorrhage.”
This week, Worcester city council was forced to admit that unauthorised payments were still being debited, three days after it had declared that the problem had been resolved. Some local residents ended up blocking their bank cards to prevent further debits draining their accounts.
The council, which estimates 1,500 people have been overcharged, has blamed the problem on a software upgrade by its parking contractor Flowbird and has promised that refunds to those affected will be processed by this Friday. It said any associated bank charges would also be repaid.
In a statement, it said: “During mid-September, the council identified that card payments relating to car parking sessions had not been taken from individuals’ bank accounts since about 29 August.
“The council duly notified its contractor Flowbird to investigate the matter. On 26 September Flowbird commenced sending delayed payment files relating to individual car parking sessions for the period to the merchant service provider.”
The council said it began receiving reports the following day of duplicate payments being taken out of people’s accounts. “We subsequently requested Flowbird to put in place a block on any further settlement files being sent and were informed that the last payment file was sent for processing on 29 September.”
Angry motorists have criticised the council for failing to respond to their complaints and are demanding compensation for the financial hardship caused by the errors.
One commuter reported being unable to afford his pending holiday after his card was debited 122 times over three days. Andy Gynn said he had been plunged into an unauthorised overdraft when £610 was removed from his account. “I can’t access any of my accounts, which is more than an inconvenience,” he told BBC Hereford & Worcester.
Payment card options are now disabled across the council-run car parks in the city, with drivers being advised to bring cash or use the smartphone app RingGo.
Worcester council said it had issued Flowbird with a contractual breach notice and would be reviewing arrangements with the company.
Flowbird declined to comment.