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:
— Andrew Gambier (@nairobiny) January 23, 2017
There are claims that companies are misleading customers
— Rob The Bruce (@robster38) January 13, 2017
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:
- From 1 October 2016 rail is covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which gives you more rights few know about.
- Passengers are entitled to have their compensation paid within 14 days, issued by the same method the passenger used to pay for the ticket.
- Keep your tickets as evidence and take a copy if you have to post them.
- 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!
- Make a note of the reason given for the delay.
- Check how long you have to claim, it is usually up to 28 days.
- 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.
- 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.
- Put your complaint (unless web based delay/cancellation refund) in writing so that you have a record.
- 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.
- If the issue was within the company’s control, be objective, succinct and clear in outlining the issue that occurred.
- 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  or if inside London, London Travel Watch or Small Claims Court.
- 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.
- 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.
For more on consumer rights, laws, tips, advice and templates get the book!