Rail delay compensation – Light at the end of the tunnel?

The Southern Railways debacle has caused misery to its many passengers. But whilst passengers are entitled to refunds for tickets purchased and not used, or for services delayed due to a rail company’s fault, are they missing out on compensation for delays as well as other issues?

All rail companies are signed up to National Conditions of Travel which states that the amount of compensation offered by train companies in their Passenger’s Charter varies between them. However, as a minimum, if you arrive more than 60 minutes late at your destination station you will be entitled to compensation.

Currently passengers can claim if they have been delayed for 30 minutes or longer. The first passengers able to use the Delay Repay 15 were those on Southern Rail, owned by Govia Thameslink Rail, from 11 December 2016. It is to be rolled out to the rest of GTR’s services before being extended across the country.

Are we complaining and gaining redress when we should?
In 2013 Transport Focus found that almost nine in 10 of passengers eligible for compensation for delays, did not claim. In 2016 it spoke to over 7000 passengers and found that the number claiming compensation has increased to 35 per cent in 2016. The research shows how few people are claiming what they are owed.

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer champion and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! concurs, saying that so few people know their rights even though rail companies should be doing as much as possible to inform passengers that they can claim. If so few people claim for a basic entitlement then it is little wonder that they don’t claim in other circumstances. She says that a strict interpretation of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (Rail companies were covered from 1 October 2016) could mean that customers could claim for higher percentages of the ticket price than companies currently offer and also for shorter delays.

Furthermore, under this Act, services must be carried out with reasonable skill and care and she encourages customers to claim for redress to which they are entitled and looks forward to the first case to be heard in the Small Claims Court! “It is still the large majority of people who don’t claim for delays never mind poor service”, she says, “We have yet to really see whether consumers will really start challenging companies and if they in turn will hold out on compensating travellers if, for example, they do not have accessible toilets in working order or they are having to stand when a company has put on fewer carriages than normal”.

What do the rail companies say?
When given examples of possible claims, a spokesperson for Southern Railways said “We would investigate any claim brought under the Consumer Rights Act thoroughly and take any action as necessary”

A Virgin Trains spokesperson said: “We are fully compliant with the requirements of the Consumer Rights Act.”

A spokesperson for Scotrail said “We judge each complaint on its merits.  For example, if someone was complaining about lack of carriages, we would need to consider if the train had fewer carriages that normal, or whether it ran with the booked or maximum number of coaches permitted on that route. We also consider whether there was advertised special events taking place, and whether we had advised customers in advance that trains were likely to be busier”.

GWR said “Liability under CRA legislation depends on the train operator not exercising “reasonable care and skill” in providing a service/product (section 49), and therefore only covers issues that are under our control. However, we always aim to reasonably consider (and regularly pay) compensation and refund requests where we may not be strictly liable in law. For example, (and something we offered before the CRA came into effect) if you have reserved a seat (which is free) and we are unable to provide one.

What do customers say?
Travellers are taking to social media to voice their concerns:

There are claims that companies are misleading customers

Delay on Delay Repay?
An investigation by BBC Radio 4 You and Yours found that many people are experiencing delays in receiving their payments. Transpennine Express told the programme that their delays are due to a high volume of correspondence and that they’re working on the problem. Northern Rail apologised for the backlog and said they were working to understand and resolve the issues. Arriva Trains Wales said that they’ve recruited extra staff to help deal with the backlog – which they say was due to an increase in compensation requests in December 2016.

What do you need to know if you want to complain?
Dewdney offers this advice for those wanting to complain:

  1. From 1 October 2016 rail is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which gives you more rights few know about.
  2. Passengers are entitled to have their compensation paid within 14 days, issued by the same method the passenger used to pay for the ticket.
  3. Keep your tickets as evidence and take a copy if you have to post them.
  4. Make a note of your journey: Date, time, where travelling from/to and how long you’ve been delayed at the time before you forget!
  5. Make a note of the reason given for the delay.
  6. Check how long you have to claim, it is usually up to 28 days.
  7. Passengers can claim for any length of delay. If you suffer repeated delays of less than half an hour or overcrowding due to an unexpected lack of carriages, you might get money back if you take your case to court. Currently, no compensation is offered.
  8. Where a service has not been provided with reasonable skill and care, passengers will now have a right to a refund of up to the full ticket price.
  9. Put your complaint (unless web based delay/cancellation refund) in writing so that you have a record.
  10. You don’t need a third party company to claim for you, just like claiming for delayed airline flights. Instead, do it yourself and get 100% of the refund.
  11. If the issue was within the company’s control, be objective, succinct and clear in outlining the issue that occurred.
  12. Make it clear what you want to happen and what you will do if you are not satisfied with the response (e.g. take it further through Transport Focus [2] or if inside London, London Travel Watch  or Small Claims Court.
  13. If not satisfied with the response, write to the CEO using contact details from the CEOemail.com website. The matter will then be escalated and taken seriously.
  14. It may also be possible to claim from your credit card company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act for non delivery of services.

Email addresses for CEOs of UK railway companies with links to Delay Repay where applicable.

Top 20 Tips How to Complain!

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!


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How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

EEnormous bills, Ofcom fine and how to complain about incorrect bills

Today, Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, fined EE around £2,700,000 for overcharging its customers

The Ofcom investigation concluded that EE made fundamental billing mistakes. It cannot investigate individual complaints. However, you can inform them of problems and if a significant number of people do this regarding the issue then it can investigate and take action. So whilst Ofcom investigates large scale issues what should you do if your ‘phone bill is wrong?

Consumer expert Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! provides us with her top tips:

  • Check your bill! It may seem obvious but most of us just pay by direct debit and forget all about it. This would have been the case for many of over 32,145 EE customers who were charged £1.20 a minute instead of 19p a minute when phoning 150 (customer services) in the EU. There are still 60,000 affected EE customers who have not been traced. Ofcom has instructed EE to continue attempts to trace them. So if you are an EE customer and you phoned 150 from within the EU between 1 July 2014 and 20 July 2015,check your bill and contact EE!
  • Act quickly in writing. You can call but you won’t have a record or evidence of what they have said they will do and laws on using this evidence in court are not clear. Likewise, unless they give their permission for you to do this you won’t be able to use it in court should you need to do this. You can use online chat if available. Don’t trust that this will be emailed to you even if they say it will be! Why you should write not ‘phone to complain effectively for more.
  • Don’t cancel direct debits. Tempting as it may be to do this, don’t! It will confuse the issue and may affect your credit rating.
  • Escalate! If contacting customer services doesn’t get a satisfactory response, write to the CEO (contact details on ceoemail.com. The CEO is unlikely to respond in person but you should get his/her team responding on their behalf. If still not satisfied ask for a deadlock letter (you don’t need to do this if more than 8 weeks has passed since your initial complaint) and take the matter to the Ombudsman. CISAS or Ombudsman Services, depending which the company is a member. It is free to the customer to do this.
  • Know your rights! Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to receive services that are carried out with “reasonable skill and care” and therefore if the company messes up your bills this is not “reasonable skill and care”. The company must put you back into the position you were in before the mistakes arose. If mistakes are made by the company then you can assert that under the company is in breach of contract so therefore if you want you can terminate early without paying any penalty. If the company’s mistakes have caused you to incur overdraft charges, then these too must be refunded.

In 2016 Ombudsman Services investigated 42,963 complaints about communications providers. 39% were billing complaints (this does not exclusively mean ‘wrong bills’ – it encompasses all billing complaints).

All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers for links to various posts regarding all sorts of issues regarding your telecom provider.

Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively

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15 Great Words to Use in Complaints

Here is a list of excellent words that I frequently use in complaint correspondence. Remember you should remain objective when it comes to describing events but you can say how you felt about them. Don’t exaggerate. Various words carry differing levels of strength so you should use what you believe is proportionate. Use these words carefully. More tips about how to complain effectively here.

Often used with “really”,  “absolutely”, “blatantly” and “utterly”

You can use these when describing the service you have received about a faulty item or poor service etc. This will help when you include your rights under the relevant laws, in particular the Consumer Rights Act 2015 

You can also get more advice, tips, information and templates for your letters and further information in the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, redress & Results!

What words do you like to use in your complaint correspondence?

How to complain about an item over a year old

Note – This is an old post. For purchases made before October 1st 2015 please see Consumer Rights Act 2015.

The Sale of Goods Act 1979/Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994
Generally speaking if the item is less than 6 months old and the item is faulty then the consumer should receive a full refund (minus any depreciation of value of use, e.g. a car used for 4 months has had some use and will have depreciated in value) a replacement or a repair. After 6 months it is up to the customer to prove that the fault was there at point of purchase. However, only take this as a guideline. When my son said that we should complain and take something back to a pound shop, even I drew the line! But there are cases when you can and should claim redress after 6 months. (More on laws protecting you from faulty purchases here.)

A faulty sofa
Damaged sofaA friend of mine had bought a sofa over a year ago from a mail order company, Studio. It was clearly faulty and she was having difficulty getting a full refund. I took to writing an email for the CEO. I stated that there were 2 really sharp metal rods (thin ones) poking through out of the fabric, so when hands are put down the middle bit of the sofa it really hurts, obviously. Karen had only done this once now knowing it is was there, however, the item is clearly faulty and she has very young children to consider. Originally she was told that because she had had the bed more than a year there was nothing that could be done. However, once this was checked further (with one assumes, the legal department) she was told that it would have to go to quality control. Karen was promised a call back that never came and she had to chase it up and get a form to fill in and request to send photos of the issue which she did. The proof of postage for this was available. Again she had to chase and ‘phone again to be told that her letter had not arrived. Since then a leg has literally snapped off when she sat on the end causing her to fall. It was now obviously not level.

The sofa was clearly faulty and under the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 she was entitled to a full refund. It was easily proven that the fault was there from the start and so the fact that she had had this item for over a year is irrelevant. In addition to the full refund I expected them to arrange for removal of the sofa and provide redress for the inconvenience caused, not least the damage to Karen’s hand, the time spent on the matter and the stress involved. Karen had not been able to use the sofa bed and so also expected redress for this particularly in light of Studio’s delayed and non-existent responses pro longing the matter.

I added my usual see you in court line if not satisfied with the response…

Karen received a replacement (which is what she wanted) plus £50.

You should persevere when met with fob offs and of course more help and templates for this sort of thing in the book. 🙂

Fewer than 45% of People in the UK Use their Consumer Rights

Well that was interesting. Thank you to everyone who responded to the survey How, When and Why Do You Complain?

Key findings

How many people complain?
According to this survey undertaken July 2014 70% of us complain when we receive poor service. This rises to 90% who complain when we purchase a faulty item. If you look to your own networks this doesn’t really ring true and I think many people put that they generally complain because they felt that they should! Or it is not every time they receive poor service. Or many of those complaints are not successful in gaining redress. This theory is backed up by answers to another question, “If you usually don’t complain is it because…” Now, 59% of respondents gave reasons and only 41% said that they always complained.  However, complaining is on the increase and the latter figures fit in with The Ombudsman’s report on complaining. 38 million customers complained in 2013. But 40 million more complaints went unaddressed as people stayed quiet. 48% and 52%.

In addition, as detailed below many more people are now using social media to complain and some people may consider writing a 140 character tweet as regularly complaining! It’s not necessarily always gaining redress and it’s very difficult to assert your legal rights in 140 characters!

46% say that when they don’t complain it is because it is too much effort or takes too much time.

Gaining redress
When considering purchasing an item/service either online or in store how easy it will be to gain redress if anything goes wrong is a factor in 74% of people’s decision making about where to buy (either sometimes or always). The same number of people shop online as do in store because they think it will be easier to return an item that way.

How well do you know your legal rights?
This is what I found the most interesting. Given that 70- 90% of people say they always complain, only 7% said they know their legal rights well and use them regularly. 5% know the basics of the Sale and Supply of Goods Act and Supply of Goods and Services Act. A further 33% will check out their rights before complaining, so assuming that they won’t always do that for various reasons, we know that fewer than 45% of people use their legal rights. So 7 + 5 + 33 = the 45% but I believe that is lower as some of the 33% won’t always check out their legal rights and complain.

Uswitch undertook a survey in May 2014 and found that almost two fifths of consumers (38%) are unsure about their rights and 36% say they do not know them well. Only 4% claim to be truly confident.

How many people do you tell about poor service?
Remember the line “Receive good service tell 1, receive poor service tell 10”? Not any more.
Less than 2% of people tell no-one.
49% tell 1 – 10 people
11% tell 10 – 20 and now
38% tell hundreds and sometimes thousands of people due to social media.
So companies be warned! It is wholly irrelevant how many complaints you actually receive! Less than 60% don’t always complain but look how many people are they telling?

Social media
68% of respondents use social media to complain.
37% of those find it effective sometimes
16% find it always effective
12% find it is never effective
Clearly social media is on the rise. There are more details on what social media works for in complaining here.

When you receive good service do you give feedback?
The majority of people think they do. I think some customer service people may disagree!

It would appear that people think they complain more than they do, certainly less know their legal rights. There is an increase in using social media to complain and whilst this may be considered complaining, it often doesn’t gain the legal redress that longer correspondence elicits. The main reasons for people not complaining are that it takes too much time and effort which might suggest that companies make it difficult to complain? Thoughts around how easy it is to gain redress when things go wrong are becoming a key factor in where people choose to buy.

People really need to complain more. If they did perhaps service would improve it would have to. And now, to help you, here’s a book! #complainlikeacow

How to Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and RESULTS! Take a look at the reviews too! #chuffed 🙂

Don’t forget, The Complaining Cow’s Top 20 Tips Tips here and video here: