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Contactless card limit raised to £100

Diane Hall


4 different coloured credit cards in a black wallet

Most people will have heard the recent announcement that the limit relating to contactless card payments has risen to £100.

The limit for such transactions used to be £30; however, when cash payments were discouraged during the pandemic for fear of passing on the virus, this was raised to £45. The latest amendment has seen the limit more than double to £100.

Carry out a straw poll in your area and you’ll find that few members of the public support this change (despite claims by HM Treasury that the decision has arisen after public consultation)—so why has this happened? Surely such a move invites greater risk of people being fleeced by the nefarious amongst us, should they lose their card (or if it was removed from their purse/person).

The £45 limit covered the majority of everyday purchases, such as petrol and what to get in for tea. Where larger purchases were made by the public, it simply required the account holder’s PIN number—which is not much of an ask, considering the few times a week this situation occurs for most of us. I can’t imagine many people complaining that their Chip and Pin payments took too long; instead, many will be voicing their fears that what little money they do have could very quickly be drained by thieves using the contactless system and its new, higher spending limit.

Businessman paying contactless with bank card at the cafe, close-up view

Businessman paying contactless with bank card at the cafe, close-up view

Retail technology also needs to be updated to reflect this new ruling, which is more work and expense for this universal decision that seems to have come from nowhere.

Financial experts argue that this new ruling brings contactless card payments in line with other methods of payment—such as Apple Pay and Google Pay via mobile devices. It’s true that neither of these methods have an upper spending limit; however, there are security measures that can be applied to minimise the possibility of theft when using these payment methods on a device, such as fingerprint and/or facial recognition. Drop your debit or credit card and there’s nothing to stop anyone from picking it up and using it for numerous contactless payments until you realise what’s happened and you freeze/cancel your card. Contactless payments are touted as being quick and easy. They absolutely are—thieves could drain your account in a matter of minutes.

There is some restriction of sorts, in that cumulative payments are limited to £300 under the new rules. This means that, if three purchases were made for £100 in quick succession, the fourth contactless purchase would demand the card’s PIN for the transaction to go through. This may seem responsible, but £300 is still a lot of money to some people. It could represent a family’s food budget for the whole month. Whilst the loss of £300 may not be any more than an inconvenience to people on good wages working for the Treasury, it could cause real problems for people on the breadline.

Think how easily low-level criminals could land themselves £300…and how they could do this again and again if they simply targeted the elderly and vulnerable.

Those drawing their pension were told some years ago that they could no longer cash their payments with a traditional pension book, and that such credits would have to go into a bank account in their name via BACS. Numerous times I’ve been in a supermarket behind an older person who has left their card in the Chip and Pin machine and walked off, or seconds after using their card they’d already forgotten where they’d put it. The elderly and vulnerable represent easy pickings, much, much more so now that the contactless limit has been raised.

Thieves could buy hundreds of pounds worth of products to sell on in a matter of minutes before their cumulative purchases would be flagged and a PIN required—it’s certainly much easier for them to shadow and rob the card of an elderly person than going to the hassle of breaking into people’s homes.

Honestly, I feel that the fallout of this decision is really scary, and it’s difficult to believe that this eventuality never crossed the minds of the people in the Treasury when they were deciding to shave mere seconds from the current contactless payment routine.

So, what have we learned here?

Maybe that losing £300 is clearly an acceptable risk to people who can afford to lose it.

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