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16 Jul 2021

Why your card is being checked for £100 when you buy supermarket pay-at-pump petrol

Some petrol stations have upped their pre-authorisation checks from £1 to £100

Supermarket petrol providers are rolling out a new pay-at-pump pre-authorisation check, where your card balance is checked for up to £100 before you buy.

This counts for payments made with debit cards, credit cards and prepaid cards. While only the money you spend will be taken from your account, what does this mean for those who are trying to buy fuel with a balance of less than £100?

Here, Which? explains why the pre-authorisation charge has changed and what will happen if you don't have enough on your card.

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Why has the pre-authorisation charge increased?

The pay-at-pump pre-authorisation charge takes place if you tap or insert your card at a petrol pump's card reader before you fill up your vehicle.

The maximum card check is £100, but this can vary depending on your card provider - some choose to check for £99 or even lower amounts.

Previously, anyone using the pay-at-pump supermarket petrol service would have to undergo an 'active card check', where your bank or card company essentially checks whether or not your payment card is real by seeing whether or not it's able to reserve £1 from it.

This has been changed to an 'available funds check', where your card balance is checked to make sure you have enough cash to cover the petrol you're buying. The pre-authorisation charge only looks at the available balance on your card - it doesn't take your arranged overdraft into account, if you have one.

Which supermarkets are making this change?

The £100 check for pay-at-pump customers has been in place for some time with independent forecourts, but is now being rolled out across all major supermarket petrol stations including Sainsbury's and Tesco.

Will the new system help motorists?

The change means that people will no longer risk going into an unarranged overdraft as a result of buying petrol, and also means those with basic bank accounts, prepaid cards and cards from non-mainstream banks will now be able to use the pay-at-pump service.

As these accounts don't have any overdraft facilities, the cards would often be declined for pay-at-pump services as it couldn't be confirmed whether or not the holders would be able to pay for the petrol.

Of course, this change benefits the petrol providers, too. By making sure that people can only buy the amount of petrol their card balance allows, it solves the issue of anyone buying what they can't afford.

What if I don't have enough money on my card?

It's important to note that, while the pre-authorisation check is for up to £100, it doesn't mean you have to have £100 or more to be able to buy fuel.

Instead, your available balance will be communicated back to the fuel pump, dictating the maximum amount of fuel you'll be able to buy.

So, if you have a balance of £50, you'll only be able to buy up to £50-worth of petrol - and the pump will automatically cut out once it reaches the maximum amount.

Will the money be taken from my account?

Your banking or payment app may alert you to the fact that your card is being checked for £100.

This amount won't be taken from your account at any point - instead, it's reserved while you fill up on petrol until you pay for the amount of fuel you've bought.

We're told that any cases of money not being released immediately after you've paid is down to your bank and you should contact them if you run into any problems.

What are my alternatives?

The pre-authorisation card check only happens when you choose to pay by card at the pay-at-pump service.

If you don't want to buy petrol in this way, you can just fill up and pay at the till instead.