Tap and Pay, eh?

I’m fed up with cash. You land up with a purse full of small change making holes in your pockets. So making small purchases in a ‘cashless’ manner seemed a really good idea.

MasterCard, and several other issuers, are making a big thing about ‘Tap and Pay’ contactless cards. The idea is that for purchases up to £15 you simply tap the card on the reader - no need to enter your PIN - and the transaction is complete. For larger purchases you use your PIN in the usual way.

My bank does a debit card with this facility but I declined it because I don’t want my bank statement cluttered up with a lot of small items. So it seemed an ideal solution when I discovered the
Orange prepay cash card. With this, you add money to the card (in much the same way as topping up a mobile phone) and then the purchases are drawn from that. This means you only have to keep track of the transfers to the card, not each little purchase. An excellent idea (and incidentally you don’t have to have an Orange mobile phone to use it).

Mastercard, who actually provide the service, and Orange push the idea that you can use it almost everywhere to save using cash. Unfortunately it turns out to be not as simple as that. The supermarkets will accept it, though I’ve only been able to use Tap and Pay in Boots and Waitrose: Sainsbury’s doesn’t have it, Iceland supposedly does though it wasn’t working. Marks and Spencers do, though my food purchases there are usually well over £15.

But the very area where you most want to use it - small retailers - turns out to be useless. My local Londis wanted to add 75p to a £1.80 purchase for use of the card (and remember it’s a debit card, not a credit card); my newsagent wanted to add 60p. The Russian delicatessen where I get my bread (I hate supermarket bread) won’t allow use of a card below £5. The newsagent told me that she was charged by Mastercard for the use of the facility. I don’t know whether this is true or these shops are just adding the charge because they don’t want to be bothered with it.

Mastercard’s UK site doesn’t say anything about this. (I rang Orange but they never got back to me.) The FAQs on Mastercard’s USA site deals with this question and says that though added charges for credit cards are acceptable, merchants are not allowed to add a charge to debit cards. What the rules are in the UK I don’t know: Mastercard don’t provide contact details and tell you to contact your issuer (and Orange haven’t responded...)

So until this is sorted out this idea isn’t going anywhere much. I still use the card in Sainsbury’s and other shops where there isn’t a charge, as even with the need to enter the PIN it saves using cash: but small retailers are effectively rendering the entire process useless and Mastercard need to get their act together.