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Why do Tesco’s self-checkouts charge you twice – and then make you wait days to get your money back?

Tesco's self-checkouts charge you twice
Money supermarket: Tesco customers are effectively being charged twice

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Tesco’s self-checkouts are charging customers twice for the same transaction – and then making them wait up to five working days to get the overcharged money back. The glitch could potentially leave low-income families unable to buy food and other essentials.

This has happened to me twice in the past month in my local branch of Tesco. Once the scanning process has been completed, I’ve paid on my contactless card, but the transaction is declared void by the till – which summons a human supervisor.

I make most of my purchases using a Curve credit card, which instantly shows transactions on my smartphone. Even though Tesco’s till declares the transaction void, the transaction is still shown as ‘pending’ on my account and those funds are not available to spend.

On both occasions, Tesco’s staff have insisted I pay again before I’m allowed to leave the store with the goods, insisting that the money from the first transaction will be refunded within five working days.

The first time this happened, on 20th December, the money wasn’t refunded until December 28th, because of the Christmas holidays. I’m in the fortunate position of being able to afford to wait for Tesco’s to hand my own money back, but those who are living hand-to-mouth may well find they cannot buy the weekly groceries because Tesco has effectively conviscated their money through not fault of their own.

When this happened to me for the second time in the Burgess Hill branch of Tesco’s yesterday, I spoke to a store supervisor. He said the error was commonplace and had been reported to management, but was largely unsympathetic to my point that low-income families could be seriously affected by this flaw. He was even less sympathetic to my suggestion that next time I’ll take my food from Tesco and pay them five working days later…

Tesco's self-checkouts charge you twice
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

I’m certainly not the only person affected by this glitch, nor is it confined to my local store. This HotUKDeals forum is full of complaints from people who’ve suffered the same fate, with customers reporting it took up to 12 days to return their money.

Tesco was invited to comment on this article, but has so far declined.

Why does this happen?

An expert with knowledge of the retail market told us:

When the retailer does a card check, the funds are “reserved” in your account to ensure that when the payment request goes through, there is money there to pay for it. However, if things go wrong, a till can do what’s called a “reversal”, where it sends a request to the bank to put the money back again. This obviously isn’t happening here.

Retailers batch up their payment requests into a single daily file and send that to the banks overnight. Only when the bank receives and process this does the money actually get taken out of your bank. It can take some time for any reserved money to be returned if they don’t receive this official request from the retailer – simply because the retailer may have just taken a little longer to make the request (if a store has a network issue, for example, and can’t transmit its data back to its Head Office for a few days).

Now read this: How do I avoid an unexpected item in the bagging area?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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