Tastecard customers have complained about being stung by a £30 fee for yearly membership they didn't want, after phone lines to cancel were busy or the firm failed to act on emailed cancellation requests.

Tastecard is a discount card scheme that gives 50% off or 2for1 on meals at 6,500+ UK restaurants. A recent promotion it ran – which wasn't featured on MoneySavingExpert.com – saw tens of thousands of people sign up for a £1 three month trial membership.

The firm says it made it clear to customers that they had to cancel within the trial period, or they'd be automatically enrolled on to its £29.99 annual subscription. Specifically, it says it warns people on nine different occasions when it runs trials of this nature.

But we've seen many reports from customers who while aware of this, couldn't get through to cancel due to constantly busy phone lines and emails not being answered. See our How to complain guide to find out your rights.

MoneySavingExpert.com forum member fiscalfreckles, for example, says: "I've had a three month trial for £1 and was fully aware that if I do not cancel, I will be charged for a further membership. However, I can't cancel! Its phone lines are either not working or engaged.

"I have been trying to get through for four days and at the end of today I can see it will say I have not contacted it and take the payment (it has my card details from the £1 offer)."

The news echoes similar complaints from Amazon shoppers who were automatically enrolled on to its £79/year Prime service after signing up for a 30-day trial (see the How to cancel unwanted Amazon Prime MSE News story).

Tastecard declined to provide a comment for our piece as it believes only a small number of people who signed up to the deal were unable to cancel in time.

I couldn't get through to cancel in time. Can I get a refund?

Tastecard says the trial period has ended for all customers who signed up for this particular promotion, so it's too late to cancel if you haven't already done so. However, if you did try to cancel but couldn't get through, you should:

  • If you emailed to cancel: Tastecard says that if you emailed it to cancel while you were still within the trial period, but didn't get a response and were automatically charged and enrolled onto the full membership, it will automatically refund you the cash. So check your account to ensure this has gone through and contact Tastecard if it hasn't.

  • If you called to cancel: Tastecard wouldn't confirm what its policy is if you tried to call and cancel. However, if you have proof of calling before the trial ended, such as a phone bill or screenshot of the attempted call, contact Tastecard and push it to cancel your membership and give you a refund.

You have a right to complain and push for a refund if you've automatically been enrolled to Tastecard when you tried to cancel in time. So if complaining directly to Tastecard doesn't work, ask your card provider or other payment provider for a refund. There's no guarantee you'll get your money back – Section 75 legal protection only comes into force on purchases of £100 or more – but it's worth asking.

Alternatively, take your complaint to the free, independent complaints arbitrator, the Consumer Ombudsman. Please let us know how you get on in our forum.

If you didn't cancel before your trial was up simply because you forgot, Tastecard says you won't get your money back.

I didn't realise I had to cancel. Can I get a refund?

If you feel you weren't made aware you had to cancel within the free trial period, take your complaint to Tastecard in the first instance, and if that doesn't work, follows the tips above.

However, Tastecard says it warns people of its auto enrolment policy on nine separate occasions and that this is detailed in its terms and conditions.

Tastecard users hit with fee after being unable to cancel auto enrolment
Tastecard users hit with fee after being unable to cancel auto enrolment

How will Tastecard stop this from happening again?

Tastecard has now set up an online form for trial customers to use to cancel in future – you just need to ensure you submit the form before 5pm on the day prior to your renewal date.

It says this has been created following both internal and external feedback.

Unhappy customers

Here are some of the frustrations we've seen expressed by customers who have struggled to cancel their membership in time:

  • @Operator_Deb: "I just received an email saying I have been charged following a week of failed calls and many ignored emails."

  • @EmmaDark30: "Over 50 attempts to phone, engaged tone every time, emails sent to two different email addresses, no response and money taken."

  • @becksslater1: "No response on email phone or Twitter, money taken from account, and welcome pack sent for a card I didn't want."

Additional reporting by Helen Knapman.