In 2015 Transport for London charged passengers a total of £75 million after they failed to tap their card and were charged the maximum fare - on average, there are more than 41,000 such 'incomplete journeys' every day.
Yet there's a quick way to get up to a year's charges refunded, and some have got back £70+. So if you're Barking mad and can't Stanmore, here's our step-by-step guide to getting the cash in your Bank account. You might be owed Morden you think.
Why you may be due a refund
If you use an Oyster card or contactless payment on most TfL services - including the Tube, Docklands Light Railway, London Overground and the Thames Clippers River Bus - or National Rail services within London, you must touch in and out. If not, you'll be charged the maximum fare, usually up to £7.80 and more for a few stations (see a full list of maximum fares).
TfL automatically takes this charge even if it wasn't your fault, eg, because of power cuts, broken machines or station evacuations.
Getting a refund takes just a few minutes, and the amounts aren't trivial:
I followed the steps and found 13 incomplete journey charges. Took me about 10 mins to claim refunds online. TfL got back to me within 3 days and refunded £72. Sweet as a nut!- MSE Damon
I found two incomplete journeys from April and May on my contactless card, I couldn’t believe I missed them! I asked for a refund and TfL refunded me £10 the next day. Brilliant. - MSE Constance
How to claim a refund
Step 1. Find your incomplete journeys
First log in (or sign up for free) to the TfL website to check your journey history.
Link your Oyster, contactless card or Apple Pay to your TfL account if you haven't already.
Then under 'My cards', select the relevant card/account, then 'View journeys and payment history'. Look for journeys with a yellow warning triangle - they're usually incomplete.
With contactless, including Apple Pay, you can view and get refunds for journeys going back 12 months. With Oyster, you can go back eight weeks if you're already registered - otherwise it starts from the day you register.
Step 2. Apply for a refund
Click a journey with a yellow triangle and it should say: "You may have been charged a maximum fare for this journey because we have no record of where you touched in/out." Just fill in the form below with your journey info and explain why you didn’t touch out, then submit your claim.
The official rule is you must've failed to tap out for reasons outside your control (power cuts, broken machines or station evacuations, etc), though we've heard TfL can be lenient on this, so it may be worth a punt anyway.
Step 3. Claim for multiple incomplete journeys
The above system uses TfL's incomplete journey form, which you can only use three times every calendar month. To claim for multiple journeys without waiting, you have to use the ‘Contact us about this journey’ tab, which is next to each incomplete journey.
Ask for a refund, explaining what went wrong and where you should have touched out.
Remember - NEVER lie. That's fraud. Currently, TfL doesn't appear to be verifying every claim (though it says it has systems to flag suspicious claims).
But never be tempted to lie or stretch the truth when making a claim, for example by saying your trip ended in Zone 2 rather than Zone 6. That's fraud and could potentially mean a prison sentence - for a similar example with train fares, see this Barrister sentenced for fare dodge BBC news story.
Incomplete journey refund Q&As
Can I apply for a refund over the phone?
If you prefer to apply by phone the process is similar. Call TfL customer services on 0343 222 1234 (it costs the same as a normal 020 number).
How will I get my refund?
TfL will hopefully email within a few days to let you know if your claim has been successful. If you used an Oyster, you can get it refunded to that card - you'll have to pick a station, and then you actually get the refund when you next touch in at that station and make a journey.
Alternatively, you can provide your bank details and get the refund paid into your account (this is your only option for contactless). Though rather than putting your bank details in an email, it's probably safer to do it over the phone by calling 0343 222 1234.
How are refunds calculated?
You'll get the difference between the correct fare you should have paid and the maximum fare you were charged.
For example, imagine Mr Russell Square travelled from Victoria to Angel at peak time, but couldn’t swipe out. TfL would charge the maximum fare of £7.80, but the correct fare was actually £2.40 - so Mr Square could claim £5.40.
What if I didn't tap in?
TfL often refunds for honest mistakes if you forget to touch out. But it sees forgetting to touch in as fare evasion. That doesn't mean you can't claim a refund if you're convinced it was TfL's fault (broken machine etc), and we haven't heard of TfL retrospectively charging penalty fares, but it's worth being aware before you claim.
I got an 'automatic refund' for an incomplete journey - what's this?
TfL says it sometimes gives out automatic refunds, because it can predict where you should have flashed your card but couldn’t.
Its system can remember the symmetry of favourite journeys, for example between your home and work, and from that work out where it thinks you meant to tap out. Automatic refunds are marked in your online journey history. If you think it calculated the wrong amount, contact it to complain, following the process above.
What if my claim’s rejected?
If you've tried to claim a refund but TfL still won't budge, your only option is to file a complaint.
If your complaint still isn't resolved after that, you can escalate it to the watchdog London Travel Watch, which can ask TfL to resolve your case. (If you used Resolver, it'll prompt you to do this, and help.) London Travel Watch doesn't have the power to force TfL to do anything it doesn't want to though.
After that, unfortunately there's no travel ombudsman to go to. If all else fails, you could technically take your claim to court. Think carefully about whether you want the hassle of this though, and whether it's worth it – it's far better to use this as a last-resort threat.
Claimed for an incomplete journey overcharge? If you're Clapham and cheering after a refund, please let us know in the TfL Refund discussion.