Restaurant discount scheme Tastecard is facing a catalogue of complaints and negative feedback from users who've been charged £40 for having their membership auto-renewed despite trying to cancel. Here's how Tastecard's auto-renewal works, what to watch out for and what to do if you've been unexpectedly charged.
We've been contacted by a number of users complaining about Tastecard's auto-renewal in recent weeks, with many furious at being charged for a membership they didn't want.
We've also found more than 50 separate complaints relating to Tastecard posted on Twitter since the start of the year, many of them about renewal.
We've put the main complaints to Tastecard and asked it if it has any plans to change its auto-renewal process – unfortunately it says it doesn't. It says it clearly warns members about auto-renewal on at least ten separate occasions, including at sign-up, in its welcome pack and in subsequent emails.
Here are some of the main problems users have raised:
The renewal date for a Tastecard is four days BEFORE the expiry date. This is clearly stated in Tastecard's terms and conditions but isn't indicated on the card itself. Some who've tried to cancel after renewal, but before the expiry date, have been caught out. Tastecard says: "If membership did not renew until the expiry date of the card, then the member would be without a membership, and thus unable to get their discount, until the new membership card arrived."
Some Tastecard members didn't realise they had to call or email by 5pm the day before the renewal date (except those with three-month trial memberships, who can cancel via the website only, up to 11.59pm the day before). This is explained in the T&Cs but not in the extract of the T&Cs published on Tastecard's 'Buy membership page', and again has caught some out – eg, @nick_truman tweeted: "We tried to cancel, helpdesk closed – payment taken – refused refund".
Some complain they've struggled to get through on the phone to cancel. For example, @LotteHarris tweeted: "I tried to cancel online and phone but was on hold forever". Tastecard says: "Like any organisation, the business will have peaks and troughs. You cannot staff up to answer every single call within a matter of seconds – as a business it would simply not be practical, unless we charged four or five times more."
There is no way for annual members to cancel via Tastecard's website. Those with a £1 short membership can use Tastecard's online cancellation form, but others have to call between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, or email. Tastecard says: "Our renewal rates are extremely high, thus we treat [annual members] differently to those on a three-month membership as they have generally tried the product first then chosen to purchase, so the numbers that then decide to cancel are extremely low."
Tastecard won't issue a refund for those who've renewed by mistake. When users who've been unwittingly auto-renewed have called up to explain they didn't want to take out a new membership, they haven't been able to get a refund – unlike, for example, with Amazon Prime. Tastecard says it's unable to cancel memberships unless the correct cancellation procedure has been followed.
What is Tastecard?
Restaurant discount scheme Tastecard gives its 3.1 million members 50% off or two-for-one on food at more than 6,500 restaurants across the UK. Its standard annual membership costs £39.99, though it frequently offers cheap trials – currently it offers a three-month trial for £1 or a free 30-day trial.
We last reported on complaints about Tastecard's auto-renewal process in August (see the Tastecard users hit with fee MSE News story). At the time, Tastecard set up an online form to enable trial customers to cancel their membership – however, annual members can't use this form to cancel.
I took up the Tastecard deal featured on MSE recently – will I be auto-renewed?
Last month we featured a deal offering free one-month and one-year Tastecards – but unlike Tastecard's usual trials, here you didn't need to supply your bank details, so unless you chose to do so there's no danger of being auto-renewed. If you signed up to a Tastecard deal featured on MSE previously though, there's a chance you could be auto-renewed, so make sure you check.
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, says: "I’m very disappointed that Tastecard isn’t going to change its terms on the back of our investigation.
"I believe every firm that allows you to sign up online should let you cancel online – to not do so runs the risk of it looking like it's deliberately putting blockers in place for people who want to cancel. Also the mix of dates is a naughty confusion – a firm that cares about its customers should want to fix that.
"We often feature Tastecard deals on MoneySavingExpert, as they’re popular, and for those who use the cards savings can be decent. When we do that we ensure the terms don’t include any catches.
"However it does concern me that people may have read across from that a blanket recommendation for Tastecard. From now, unless it changes, if we do cover it again (and we’ll see after this story) we’ll be extremely clear to people the difference between any deal we cover and its general terms."
How to cancel and avoid being caught out
To ensure you don't get caught out by auto-renewal, make sure you plan well ahead and cancel before the RENEWAL date (which, as above, will be four days before your card's expiry date). Even once you've cancelled, you'll be able to use your card until its expiry date, so if you're sure you won't want to renew you should cancel as soon as possible. To cancel:
- If you're on Tastecard's three-month-for-£1 trial, you can cancel using its online cancellation form. All other Tastecard members must call or email to cancel.
- You can phone customer services on 0800 5677 241 between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. If you're finding it impossible to get through, one forumite suggests using 01618 831194 as an alternative – when we tried this we were able to get through to someone, though since we published this story Tastecard has told us this is not a customer services number and those who call it will be asked to redial.
- Alternatively you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to cancel.
- Make sure you receive an email from Tastecard confirming your membership has been cancelled – if you don't get one, contact them to check. Tastecard has confirmed that members who cancel will receive an automated email confirming cancellation.
If you've taken the steps above but are still concerned you may be auto-renewed, to be sure you could contact your bank, debit or credit card provider to try to cancel the Tastecard payment directly.
What if I've been auto-renewed – can I get my money back?
Tastecard says if you've lodged a request to cancel before 5pm on the day before your renewal date, either online, by email or on the phone, then your membership will be cancelled even if your request hasn't been actioned before the deadline (trial members also have until 11.59pm the day before to cancel via the website).
However if you haven't done this, Tastecard says it's "unable to cancel the membership as the correct process [has] not been followed".
If you are auto-renewed then unfortunately your options are limited, but try the following:
- Complain to Tastecard and explain why you weren't able to lodge a cancellation request – it may have a change of heart. You can do this directly by emailing email@example.com, or by using the free online complaints tool Resolver*.
- If you paid via PayPal, contact it and ask for a refund. Forumite Fiscalfreckles praised PayPal for refunding her payment in a couple of hours – she simply said she didn't authorise the payment and hadn't been able to contact Tastecard.
- If you paid via a debit or credit card, contact your bank or card provider and ask 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.
Please let us know how you get on in the forum.
Over the past couple of months we've seen dozens of angry comments on social media about Tastecard's auto-renewal process – here are just a few:
@tastecard Not used your service, don't want to be your customer but you're still happy to keep my £40. Appalling customer service!!!— Gemzz..... (@MissAgitated) January 13, 2016
@tastecard another day another attempt to try and get my money that you took from me. your refusal proves the low level business you are— Kirsty Trowers (@KTexplorer) January 14, 2016
What does Tastecard say?
We've put all the complaints we've heard from users to Tastecard. It's given us a very detailed response, including the points above, though it doesn't have any plans to change its auto-renewal process currently.
A spokesperson says: "Cancellations can be made by telephone at any time from the start of the initial membership period up until the working day preceding the renewal date. Our phones are open from 9am until 5pm Monday to Friday excluding bank holidays.
"There is also an option to cancel the initial membership online and this can again be done anytime during the initial membership term and up until midnight on the day preceding the renewal date.
"We are always listening to customer feedback so we can make their experience as smooth as possible."
What about auto-renewal for Gourmet Society members?
The Gourmet Society is another restaurant discount membership club also owned by Taste Marketing Ltd, the company that runs Tastecard. It essentially offers an upmarket version of the same deal – you can get two-for-one meals, 50% off your food bill and 25% off the total bill including drinks from 6,500 restaurants. Annual membership costs £69.95 and it also offers a £1-for-three-months trial but does not at this time offer a free trial.
If you're a Gourmet Society member and worried about being caught out, here's how its auto-renewal works:
- Membership is automatically renewed for a 12-month period at the end of your initial term.
- Your renewal date is 15 days before your expiry date – you must cancel before then to avoid being charged, and keep your cancellation reference number as proof.
- If you don’t wish to renew an existing membership, you have to call the Gourmet Society on 0800 043 1978 or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org to get a cancellation reference number.
Taste Marketing Ltd says Gourmet Society members are sent an email reminder 21 days before their membership expires, and that this email "clearly states the date that a cancellation code needs to be obtained by, the membership number and instruction on how to do this".