Alex 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.”