Stronger consumer rights against rail companies delayed again

Alex Neil Which? guest post for Complaining Cow websiteAlex Neill, Director of Campaigns and Communications at Which? writes a guest post on train delays.

 

 

At a time when people up and down the country are up in arms about poor rail services and sub-standard compensation arrangements for delays and cancellations, the Government is seeking a delay to the implementation to the Consumer Rights Act for rail services. New rights were meant to come into force in April this year, but you will now have to wait until October 2017 to get enhanced rights to claim a full refund or compensation when you’re delayed.

The Government must not give rail companies a free pass for another 18 months and instead should bring the new consumer law into force without any further delay, rather than causing more distress to rail passengers across the UK.

What will passengers’ rights be under the Consumer Rights Act?

When the Consumer Rights Act (related to train delays) comes into force, you won’t need to be delayed for any minimum time before you would be entitled to a refund, which could be up to 100% of the cost of the ticket price. The train operating company would be obliged to pay the refund via the same payment method as the consumer used – e.g. card or cash – rather than the current default vouchers.

Delayed passengers would also be able to claim for consequential losses arising from the delay, such as the cost of missing a connection. Once it was clear that compensation was due, the train operating company would have to pay within 14 days. Claims could also be made up to 6 years after the delay occurred.

These rights under the Consumer Rights Act would not be excluded by the National Rail Conditions of Carriage or any other standard terms and conditions used by train operating companies.

What are rail passengers’ current rights?

In the absence of the Consumer Rights Act – so currently, and up until 2017 – rail passengers’ rights to compensation arrangements vary depending on the train company and are very confusing, difficult with long-winded processes. A minimum level of delay is required before any compensation is available – 30 minutes for train operating companies that offer DelayRepay and 60 minutes for others, and a claim generally has to be made within 28 days.

If you’re currently trying to get a refund, the train company doesn’t have to give this to you in the same method of payment – e.g. you’re unlikely to get a refund onto your debit card, or in cash. All train operators are now obliged to offer cash compensation rather than vouchers, this was part of changes to the National Rail Conditions of Carriage in July 2015. Vouchers are still used by some train operating companies as the default option and there’s no time limit as to when the train company needs to pay you by, but you can and should request for cash. Any claims for consequential losses are also specifically excluded under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage – so if the delayed train makes you miss your connection, you’re not able to claim for the cost of that ticket.

Which?’s ‘Make Rail Refunds Easier’ campaign

With millions of passengers left out of pocket each year due to train delays, we launched our campaign to Make Rail Refunds Easier calling for clear information on how to get a refund for delays and for all train companies to offer cash as default in December last year. As part of the campaign, which is currently supported by over 43,000 people, we also want to see train companies held to account if they fail to encourage passengers to claim refunds for delays.

We submitted a super-complaint to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) calling for an investigation into rail delay refunds and calling for action to make the process clearer and easier for consumers.The ORR responded on 18 March 2016 setting out recommendations for action from the rail industry, the response can be accessed here.

How do I complain to a train company?

  • Ask for a refund – most train companies use the national DelayRepay scheme to set what compensation they will pay.
  • Write to the train company – explain what happened, give full details of your journey and include your tickets (take copies first). Many train companies now provide online forms on their websites to do this.
  • Escalate your complaint – if you’re not happy with the response you get from the train company, or don’t receive the refund you think you’re entitled to, try contacting Transport Focus if your journey was outside London or London TravelWatch for journeys in London.
  • Contact the Ombudsman – if you’re still unhappy with the way your complaint has been handled, you can take it to the Parliamentary Ombudsman (for Transport Focus), or the London TravelWatch Chief Executive. And, if you’re still unhappy with London TravelWatch you can refer your complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.
  • For further information on how to make a claim against a specific train company, you can visit our website.

More information regarding complaining about train delays. You can also see Tips for How to Complain and the How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! for more on your consumer rights, templates, advice and guidance.

Update 07/09/16 Win! New rail passenger rights announced rail will be covered by the Consumer Rights Act from 1st October 2016. From the Which? post:

“This is good news for rail passengers. In a little over three weeks all rail passengers will be entitled to have their compensation paid within 14 days. Compensation will be issued by the same method the passenger paid with, rather than with vouchers that some train companies currently use.

Passengers will also be entitled to payment for additional consequential losses, such as missed connections, and will be able to claim for any length of delay.”

The Complainers Giving Complainers a Bad Name?

My experience with The Complainers
Well The Complainers filmed me. Lovely Tom and Jon came to film me and said they would be back to film updates to the stories and film me with the blog and stuff! I’m probably old enough to be Tom’s mother but should you ever be filmed by Dragonfly (they made The Hotel – hilarious, and One Born Every Minute so a great company) ask for him, he is very very easy on the eye! 🙂 They asked to be kept informed and that was that. I kept them informed, the researcher seemed interested in the workshops and community radio I was doing, all more interesting than filming someone emailing and said she’d ‘phone on the Monday. Then I was on the BBC….. Then it all went quiet. I joked that perhaps Channel 4 may not like showing someone who had been on the BBC! It became clear that despite more interesting things to film, like having my carpet cleaned courtesy of The Body Shop and updates to stories, workshops and radio, Dragonfly didn’t contact me. After a few months I was curious why and emailed. Jon replied “We had a bit of a change of direction after we met you so it became more about longstanding complaints within the utility sphere and then it got more focussed from there. Certainly I hope when you see the documentary that our episode wouldn’t have been the right fit for your endeavours, even though both Tom and myself had a fantastic time coming to meet you.”

Hmm, I took long standing to mean longstanding. My complaint with Virgin that they filmed had reached the point of CISAS and that has to be 8 weeks before you can do that. I thought all my stories re Tesco showed that I often picked on them. But then we saw the first episode and things became clearer.

The first episode
I thought that this would be interesting. See things from the other side and how Transport for London deal with complaints. Although we didn’t see that. We saw abuse sent through Twitter which is nothing to do with complaining. We saw Traffic Droid, giving out red cards to road users who in his opinion were not abiding by the rules, and by others’ opinion, putting others in danger. I’m not certain as I got so bored watching the programme. The Telegraph summed it up in a good review. An opportunity to show what happens in call centres but we didn’t see one complaint being handled. There must be hundreds of complaints about transport but did we see any? No. Far too much of one person, even in the name of entertainment was he really the only “character” they could find? So if you were watching in the hope of finding out how to complain about delayed trains this is what you need.

The second episode
Councils. Well this will be full of “characters” I thought. Even if we don’t see complaints being resolved. Nope. Just a few yet again. Ridiculous, there must have been loads to choose from. An extreme complainer – no sign of complaining about consumer issues or asserting legal rights. At least I think in this episode we did see a couple of call centre staff answer a call and resolve a complaint.

The third episode
Well apparently this is the one I would have been in. And there it was the reason I was not used. Fair enough. Yep, “My endeavours were not a good fit”. No wonder Tom and Jon wanted to come back to my house and have me cook for them! They must have liked coming to my house, it was clean and they happily drank tea, ate biscuits and had a glass of wine. But I am polite (well, when I write complaining to companies) assertive and use the Law. At least the programme was extreme enough for people who don’t complain to realise that this is not the way to do it and hopefully see that not everyone sees a complaint as an “opportunity”. Shame about the stereotyping too for 2 of the characters, although moving your stuff via a nicked shopping trolley did make me laugh Ian 🙂

Overall thoughts
Well, I can see why I wasn’t used! Although I write (I’m reliably informed) a useful and entertaining blog and give good free advice on social media I’m not sad/loony/desperate enough to go looking for complaints or continue on and on with the same complaint (having got it resolved in the first place). I named the insect in the Tesco rice Phillip after the CEO and I had a hammer which I was tenderising chicken with while I slated the Tesco CEO. It amused Jon and Tom at the time but I think that as time progressed and the powers that be decided they wanted extreme complainers (as opposed to people complaining and asserting their legal rights) it would have been used if I had gone to the Tesco offices with insect and hammer in hand demanding to see Clarke!

I loathe the term “serial complainer” and “professional complainer” both are ridiculous terms and don’t reflect what many other people and I do which is to complain effectively. We don’t go looking for complaints or continue complaining when a matter is resolved. But the people reflected in this programme were not just asserting their legal rights or righting wrongs. A better title for the programme would have been “Extreme Complainers”. Then that would have truly reflected the programme. As it was, it was disappointing as we didn’t see how best to complain or how complaints were dealt with. Should you want to know how to make complaints effectively then I talk about tips:

and 2o Top Tips

So all in all, I was of course a bit gutted that I wasn’t filmed more and shown as it would have been great PR for the blog. If I didn’t write this blog I wouldn’t have wanted to appear so perhaps that’s another difference between your average complainer and an extreme one. I was filmed for Ripped Off Britain last week, so looks like I’m more of a BBC gal! Tell you what these director chappies are really very nice although you should shave off the beard Iain, it doesn’t suit we need to see more of your face 🙂 I also think that directors are like police officers, all getting younger and making you feel old!

But the real shame is that such an opportunity to inform people was missed in an effort to “entertain”. But if they were wanting people to talk about it like Benefits Street the commissioners or whomever made the decisions to change the focus from genuine complaints and looking at how complaints are dealt with to showing extreme complainers were misguided. Reviews have been poor, characters were limited and people don’t care enough. Benefits come from our taxes, we generally care how our taxes are used and it is an issue which gets people worked up. You are either a complainer or you aren’t. One isn’t going to get worked up about how someone fills their time when it does not affect them personally. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is a need/opportunity for a programme on how people complain without being an extreme complainer and without having to resort to media programmes like Watchdog to take up cases. Sadly, The Complainers did not fill that gap.

What did you think of The Complainers?

If you want to be an effective complainer and always get redress, then buy the book!