NatWest customers got a nasty surprise this week when 112,000 customers found they had been charged twice due to a payment problem at the bank.
While technical issues involving a large number of errors like this aren’t that common, duplicate payments – where you’re charged twice or more for the same transaction – happen more than you might think.
Here’s what happens and a guide to your rights.
Over the past two decades, the way we pay for things has changed dramatically. Hard to believe these days, but not too long ago, card payments could take 3-5 days to post to your account.
This led to considerable confusion, as money debited from your balance was not recorded as spent, which meant that it was very difficult to determine how much money you actually had.
This all changed with the “faster payments” system, which means that the money leaves your account and arrives in the other account more or less at the same time (or at least on that day).
Millions of transactions like this happen every day – in fact, there were 1.7 billion transactions in January alone according to UK Finance.
With all this digital money circulating, it is perhaps inevitable that mistakes will be made.
Your account may be debited twice due to a problem in the bank’s payment system, as appears to be the case with NatWest. But technical issues can also duplicate payments for individuals.
Additionally, when you pay using a “merchant terminal” – the machine where you tap or type your PIN – can also duplicate payments in error.
Finally, there are people who “accidentally” type in the wrong amount or duplicate a payment to extort money from you.
This is nonsense as there will be a clear audit trail – but it happens, especially with contactless payments which we may not pay attention to.
How to manage a double payment?
If you find that you have been charged twice or more for a single payment, contact your bank or card provider and explain the situation.
Getting a refund shouldn’t be a problem – in fact, they can usually resolve the issue immediately.
Indeed, it must be clear to the card provider that the debit is the result of an error.
Payments are associated with codes and information that allow the company to see when and where the payment took place.
It should be clear from this information that the duplicate payment is an error.
Sometimes the bank asks you to sign a document confirming that you have not authorized more than one payment.
This tends to happen with large amounts.
For example, if a merchant terminal is playing, a store could split a payout in half in order to pass it through.
That’s quite unusual though – and there should be clear proof that you authorized the payment either by entering your PIN or tapping the card.
If the amount you were charged is not what you authorized, the error is likely to be clear.
So if you cleared £9.99 for two pints in a pub, but the bar came in at £99.99, it’s easy to establish that you’re buying a few drinks rather than a round for everyone!
There are disreputable establishments where the staff observes your PIN entry and performs a few more transactions on their own.
This is why you should never leave your card behind the bar (or leave it out of your sight).
The same applies to payment at checkout. If you are typing, make sure you see what the staff member typed on the machine (not what is displayed on the cash register) before authorizing.
How to avoid duplicate withdrawals?
This may seem like a hassle, but we all need to get better at verifying our readings.
You can pay this directly these days, via your debit or credit card.
But you can also use third-party payment systems, like PayPal or Open Banking Apps to pay via your phone. You can even pay through our phone bill for some things.
It’s only when banks spot their own technical issues or there’s a big mistake that they tend to notice a problem with duplicate payments.
So make a habit of going through your statements for all the payment systems you have every month. If you notice something you don’t recognise, go through the appeals process to dispute the transactions.
Remember that some payments may not seem familiar to you, but may make sense when you learn more about them, so ask the payment system provider for as much information as possible if you are unsure. have made the payment.
Still not happy? You can contact the Financial Ombudsman for any dispute involving a financial product, such as plastic cards and third-party payment systems. The Ombudsman can also examine your complaint free of charge.
Get free help with duplicate payments at www.resolver.co.uk.