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Can I Leave Without Paying if Card Machine is Not Working?

By: Sarah Clark (ILEX) - Updated: 12 Jan 2018 | comments*Discuss
 
Contract Law Payment Card Petrol Station

Q.

Today I drove into my local supermarket petrol station. Noting the visa sign on the door, I filled my car with petrol and made my way to the cashier to pay by credit card.

She then told me I could not pay by credit card as the connection was on a go slow. She suggested I took my card to a local cash machine (some 500 metres away) and withdraw cash, return to them and pay for the petrol.

I insisted she take the credit card and try it because: (1) I had not been informed before filling my car that they could not accept credit cards. (2) The credit cards accepted notice was displayed in the window.

Luckily the card went through very slowly, but the man beside me had to fill in an 'unable to pay' form. Could she have insisted I go to the cash machine or could I have left without paying under the consumer rights act?

(Mr Kenny Hazelton, 24 September 2008)

A.

First, there is actually no such thing as a 'consumer rights act'. Legally, when you buy goods from a trader, whether from a shop, online or by telephone, what you are doing is entering into a binding contract according to UK law.

When you enter into any contract there are three elements to that contract. These are:

  • Offer – you offer an expression of willingness to be bound by a contract with the seller, usually by agreeing to pay a price for goods or services.
  • Acceptance – where the trader agrees to accept your offer to buy their goods.
  • Consideration from both parties – which is where each party must receive something of value; usually money and goods.
There should also be evidence that there was an 'intention to create legal relations', which means that it should be obvious that you and the trader intended to enter into a legally binding contract. If you go onto a petrol station forecourt and fill your car up with their fuel, it would be generally accepted that you had intended to do that, as it would be accepted that if a trader advertises petrol for sale, they are willing to sell it and enter into a contract with you.

In this case, the offer was payment for petrol at the price advertised. The acceptance was the garage accepting that offer of payment. Consideration was due in the form of petrol into your tank, followed by payment to the garage. If you were unable to pay by card, you would still be in breach of contract if you refused to pay at all, and the garage would be within their rights to take action against you to recover the non payment.

Obviously, under the circumstances, the garage should be reasonable and offer you the option of the 'unable to pay' form and/or giving you the opportunity to go to a cash point or even send an invoice. In short, unfortunately you can't get out of paying for your petrol just because a card machine is out of service. You're legally obliged to pay for it even if you have to send a cheque, go to the cash point or come back later!

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