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TfL to shake up Oyster card deposit refunds – check if you can get cash back

Transport for London customers who buy an Oyster card from Sunday 23 February will only be able to get their £5 deposit refunded if they keep the card for more than a year – but with over £200 million in deposits currently stuck on unused cards, it's worth checking if you can get a refund now. 

At the moment, passengers need to pay a £5 deposit when activating a new Oyster card. They then need to request this money back once they no longer use the card to have it returned.

But for Oyster cards issued from 23 February onwards, the £5 deposit will automatically be returned as pay-as-you-go credit one year after activating the card. This means you won't have to do anything to get the money back, and won't have to wait until you no longer need the card to get a refund.  

It's bad news for those who only need an Oyster card for a short time though, as cards returned after less than a year won't have the £5 deposits refunded. 

Transport for London (TfL) says it's making the change to cut the number of people returning their Oyster cards after just a few days or weeks, which will reduce plastic waste and operating costs. It says that of the nine million cards issued in the last year, seven million were not used after four weeks. It adds that those visiting London for a short time should instead pay for travel using a contactless bank card or mobile device.

See our Oyster card refunds guide for more info on claiming cash back. 

How do I get a refund for an old Oyster card now?

If you currently have an unused Oyster card, you can get a refund for the £5 deposit, regardless of how long it's been used for, as well as unpaid pay-as-you-go credit.

There's no time limit on reclaiming this cash – you'll still be able to do it after Sunday 23 February. 

Here's how to claim: 

  • Online. Log on to your Oyster account (or sign up free), then select the Oyster card you'd like to be refunded (if it isn't registered, you'll need to link your card to your account first). Then, click on 'Apply for a product refund'. Follow the instructions to get a refund to your bank account.

  • At stations. If you have £10 or less pay-as-you-go credit, you can get a refund at tube station ticket machines. Just touch your Oyster on the yellow card reader, select 'Oyster refund' and follow the instructions. The ticket machine will dispense a refund in cash.

Once you've got your refund, you won't be able to use the Oyster card – so make sure you definitely won't need it again.

For cards issued after 23 February, you won't be able to reclaim the deposit manually (though it will be refunded automatically when you've had it for a year) – but you'll always be able to claim refunds for pay-as-you-go credit. 

What does TfL say? 

Mike Tuckett, head of customer payments at TfL, said: "We are committed to making travel in London as easy as possible.

"These changes, which will only affect newly purchased cards, will mean that customers who continue to use their newly purchased Oyster card for more than a year will automatically receive £5 credit, meaning that we are no longer retaining their deposit. 

"The changes will also encourage customers who can to use pay-as-you-go with a contactless card or mobile device instead to travel conveniently across London."

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