Chargepoint operators lock up people's money for weeks

The latest news from the world of EVs

Hello and welcome back to The Fast Charge, a British EV newsletter.

In today’s edition…. The latest EV production figures, a hypercar tie-up and I highlight the murky area of chargepoint operators taking prepayments from customers.

Also, please note there will be no Fast Charge this Friday.

As ever, do drop me an email at tomrileylondon@gmail.com if you have any feedback, questions or comments.

In the news…

EVs SOAR: The latest industry figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have revealed that one in ten cars sold last month was an all-electric car. That’s up 122% compared to this time last year. EVs in general - that includes fully electric as well as plug-in hybrids - took 17% of the market in June. In addition, Tesla’s Model 3 is currently the UK’s most popular car as they topped SMMTs new registrations table - albeit, I wonder if that’s because Tesla only delivers cars to the UK every 3 months. Read more.

TESLA STORMS: Speaking of Tesla, despite the semiconductor issues and difficulty the company is having in China, they still managed to deliver over 200,000 vehicles over the last quarter. This has beaten the expectations of the stock market bros.

TOTAL RECALL: 4,495 Porsche Taycans in the UK are being recalled after the company discovered a software fault that could shut down the car’s power. The recall applies to models produced pre-June-2021. So, if you’re a Taycan owner, get yourself to the nearest Porsche dealership for a bit of TLC. Sadly, Porsche is unable to deliver the update over the air. Read more on Autocar.

OH, MATE! This has long been suspected but it was finally revealed yesterday that Rimac, the electric hypercar carmakers, are teaming up with Bugatti to form a new company: Bugatti Rimac. Though, sad to disappoint, there will not be a jointly badged car on the horizon. Instead, both Zeus and Hercules will operate as their own brands but share knowledge and resources. It sounds like Rimac will continue to make electric supercars meanwhile Bugatti’s vehicles will head down a hybrid route. Mate Rimac, the 33-year-old founder of Rimac, will lead Bugatti Rimac. Read more on TopGear.

MORE INVESTMENT: Only a week after Nissan’s gigafactory announcement, Vauxhall has announced today that they will manufacture electric vans at their factory in Ellesmere. This will safeguard about 1,000 jobs and is worth hundreds of millions. However, much like Nissan, the UK government is expected to foot up some of the costs. Given the Model 3 popularity in the UK, I wonder if it won’t be long until Elon unveils a British factory.

HAULAGE NETWORK: Three major lorry manufacturers, Volvo, Daimler and Traton (aka. Volkswagen), have announced a joint plan to build 1,700 charging points in strategic locations and close to highways across Europe. They will invest around £430 million into the project. This should help alleviate worries for businesses looking to switch over the next decade to electrified logistics. Read more on TechCrunch.

Chargepoint operators lock up people’s money for weeks

Last week, while enjoying the sun-kissed lands of Somerset, I was on my way to the local shop. It’s nicknamed ‘Harrods’ by some locals who believe it to be pricey. But, given I’m a Londoner, I thought a better name would be ‘Poundland’. That was until I tried to buy a Freddo and my card failed.

Now, why is this important? Well, it turns out my bank had gone haywire because, unbeknownst to me, £134 had been taken from my account from a mysterious business. After getting home I was able to discover that the £134 had in fact been taken as collateral by the ultra-rapid charging company Ionity.

Two days earlier, I had used an Ionity chargepoint en route to see my parents in Somerset. I had some difficulty with it so had to do the whole ‘plug-in’ process twice. What I was unaware of is that Ionity takes £67 as a ‘pre-authorisation’ payment each time you use its device. Thus, because I had to do the process twice, I had £134 locked away and held for a charge that lasted only 25 minutes.

On investigation, I was told by Ionity’s customer service team that the amount could be held for up to four weeks. Fortunately, after about 5 days the amount was returned with the real fee for my charge (£10) taken off.

It turns out Ionity is not the only provider to use this practice. The ‘pre-authorisation check’ is used by all charging point operators to stop motorists with insufficient funds in their bank accounts from charging their cars.

The same process has recently been introduced for motorists using ‘pay at pump’ petrol stations to much backlash. However, while petrol users can still go in-store, EV drivers cannot.

There is a huge price disparity between the amounts taken by companies and how quickly they are given back. This is a list - shared with me by another EV driver plus my own research - of how much people could have taken by each network.

  • Charge Your Car - £3

  • BP - £29

  • Shell - £12

  • Instavolt - £5

  • Chargepoint - £10

  • Ecotricity - £12

  • GeniePoint/Engie - £20

  • Gridserve - £39

  • Osprey - £29 (or £5 via Zap Pay)

  • Electric Blue - £24

  • Ionity - £67

  • Pod Point - £10

  • Swarco - £29

  • Fastned - £29

  • Rolec VendElectric/EVCharge.Online - £30

Bad for budgets

What’s evident here is that Ionity certainly takes the highest amount for a prepayment. But, other huge networks like BP and Gridserve are also taking a lot from customers before they’ve used a volt of electricity. And, though on the face of it £30 might not seem like much, if you use it once or twice a week that quickly adds up. More so if you have issues.

“It can seriously screw up your domestic accounts if things like direct debits are unpaid due to a few days of lack of available funds,” shared one motorist. 

In my own experience, I’ve been surprised that these prepayment amounts are often not well advertised to customers. I certainly might have thought twice if I knew Ionity would hold £67 from me.

Necessary evil

Admittedly, while it’s annoying it is perhaps understandable why it’s used. Chargepoint operators don’t want to have people run off without paying, especially at more expensive public chargers. However, evidently, this process needs to be faster. And evidence suggests it can be!

For example, while Gridserve may take £39 as a holding fee, according to users the company returns the amount “within minutes of the charge ending”.

Surely the government needs to ensure that’s the case for all? At the moment, to be quite honest, most of the people driving around in EVs right now are middle-class folks with quite a few quid in their pockets. But, we need to ensure the charging environment is accessible to people of all backgrounds. That includes people who live week-to-week on their incomes.

When I asked Ionity how quickly they release the money back to customers and how they expect people on a lower income to cope with these locked away pre-payments, they told me:

“We have responded to customer feedback here and have solved this process differently in the new app. Now, pre-authorization has been lowered and deletion will take place in the short term.”

What they’re saying is, they have an app - also available on the web - and that’s the only way to avoid the huge £67 prepayment. Essentially, you need to be known to them. And it’s the same story with other providers as well. 

Shell told me of their prepayment arrangement:

“In most extreme cases, it can take up to 14 days to release the funds. We are working with NewMotion to shorten the times and limit the number of pre-authorisations per session.”

Adding:

“There is no pre-authorisation for Recharge App payments and activity is settled monthly.”

While it’s great Shell wants to make it better, there is a simple message here: use operator’s apps and you will avoid the costs.

However, in the future, most people won’t want to use the apps. There are already huge numbers in the EV community crying out for contactless - which only a few providers use. So I can’t see this problem going away for most.

Next steps

The government needs to take up the reins and provide some guidance to the operators. At the moment, it’s not a great situation and most potential EV owners won’t be too keen on regular prepayments. It should not just be left to the operators because there will be laggards who do nothing.

Some current operators might already be in breach of consumer protection rules.

According to the website Resolver, a complaint tool backed by MoneySavingExpert: “Banks and businesses should not be able to hold on to your money without permission – even if there’s a mistake. And wherever there’s a pre-authorisation, you should be told in advance so you have a choice before giving the firm your business.”

I am but one man annoyed at having £134 held away from me for a week. But, based on speaking to others, I am not alone in having this experience. It needs a top-down fix.

By Tom Riley


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