Card transactions by proxy

Roland Perry lists at
Mon Apr 4 08:24:26 BST 2011

In article <4D98E818.3040802 at>, Peter Mitchell 
<otcbn at> writes

>>> Locally (Cambridge) I sometimes make my monthly council tax payment 
>>>at  the Post Office, where they swipe my council issued magnetic 
>>>stripe  card and then take a payment from my debit card using their 
>>>Chip & Pin  terminal.

>>  My council closed their "cash office" for good last Friday. Although 
>>it  also took cheques, and Credit Cards for a £2 fee.
>>  Apparently, if I want to pay in person now, I have to find a 
>>PayPoint,  but I doubt they take cheques and certainly don't take 
>>debit or credit  cards.
>One possible alternative is to pay a cheque over the counter at a 
>branch of the bank where the council's collection account is held. 
>Their bank will be named on the Bank Giro Credit slips provided in your 
>council tax paybook.

But you are assuming there is uniformity between councils. Cambridge 
scrapped their paybook back in about 2000 (when they introduced the card 
that Tony mentions above). Since then, the details of their bank account 
(for people wanting to pay by standing order) has been a closely guarded 
secret. It is suspected that their motivation is to move as many people 
as possible to DD.

Similarly my own council (Rushcliffe) hasn't had a paybook all the seven 
years I've lived here. And as well as closing their cash office, this 
year they've removed the details of paying by Giro (at Post Office or a 
bank) from the back of the bill.

But they have always published the account numbers for standing order, 
just not the name of the bank [although through the magic of the 
interweb, I can turn it into the local HSBC branch; which has another 
interesting feature - they have no counter service, just a range of 
machines in the lobby that I doubt you can use for paying into random 
accounts, rather than accounts you have a special card for].

>I haven't tried this method yet myself, I just send them a cheque.

I've had problems in the past (different council) with payments being 
"lost". So I prefer to get a receipt. Indeed, when I moved at the end of 
last year it became clear that they couldn't process a payment into my 
'old' account once I'd told them I had moved. I took them a cheque and 
they handed it back because their system rejected it. At least I was 
there, and got the cheque back in my hand, rather than it being lost in 
some suspense account.

The new house was the same band as the old one, and I thought the 
easiest thing to do would be pay the final instalment on the old house, 
then have the credit moved across to the new house. But that failed, and 
the eventual fallout took two visits to the office to sort out!

What surprised me most was that I couldn't get the council employee 
concerned to accept that (because the houses were in the same band, and 
I was moving with the same parish) that my debt to the council was going 
to be exactly the same, irrespective of the day I moved. So they 
insisted on doing all the sums. My own failure to be able to explain 
this simple maths, was as frustrating as someone from the council tax 
department never having met this concept before.

>But it does work for other paying other utility bills.

And in my new house I discovered that the meter readings for "night" and 
"day" on the electronic 'white meter' were the wrong way round. I don't 
use an economy 7 (or whatever) tariff because there's not enough 
overnight consumption to make the cheaper overnight electricity balance 
out the higher cost [which they naturally fail to tell people] of the 
daytime consumption, compared to the normal tariff.

But if the previous tenant(s) were on economy 7, they they'd have been 
paying less than half as much as they should - with the bill looking 
very odd, lots of 'night-time' usage and very little in the 'day'. 
That's how I noticed it, because they sent me a bill a month after I'd 
moved in - perhaps to probe if I existed and was likely to pay, as 
normally they send them quarterly. But their billing systems clearly 
don't have an internal exception report when people's reported 
consumption is "back to front".

Three months later, and the electricity company has still failed to send 
anyone round to look at the meter (I think they believe I'm making it 
up) although they call me from time to time to say they haven't 
forgotten about it.

ps. What's this got to do with crypto (or security of payments or 
whatever)? Well, we can easily fall into the trap of making assumptions 
about the way the world (and its billing/banking systems) works. But 
sometimes those assumptions aren't right, and often it's hard to
work backwards from the public-facing information or staff, to what's 
going on underneath.
Roland Perry

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