/ Travel & Leisure

Does a rail voucher cut it when your train has been delayed?

Girl sat on suitcase waiting for train

National Rail’s conditions of carriage mean that if you run into trouble with your train journey your compensation will be in the form of National Rail vouchers. But is this a cop-out?

Now the trouble with train vouchers is that they tie you in to spending your ‘compensation’ on further train journeys – not always a pleasant prospect. I imagine those stuck on the First Great Western service for 11 hours earlier this month aren’t desperate to get back on a train any time soon.

These vouchers can only be redeemed in person at a ticket office, and have an expiry date. This means you have to go out of your way to buy your tickets, and if you don’t travel frequently, they’re not the most helpful method of refund.

Compensation for train delays

And it seems you agree. Which? Conversation commenter Rarrar says:

‘I have a reasonable amount of money in the form of National Rail vouchers received as compensation for late or cancelled trains. The only way I can redeem these is by buying tickets at a station ticket office, besides the cost and inconvenience of a 50 mile trip to do this at our local mainline station I can never be sure if the ticket office will be open or not.’

I recently had two train journeys where I was forced to buy a new ticket due to problems with the train I was meant to be travelling on. When I wrote to ask for a refund, I was promptly sent an apology and some National Rail vouchers. As the extra tickets had set me back nearly £100 – which I never intended to spend on train journeys – I was pretty miffed.

I wasn’t planning to travel again by train in the near future, and these unbudgeted-for expenses pushed me into overdraft territory, something a cash refund would go some way to fix.

Follow through with your complaint

We’re working to change the way we are compensated for problematic train journeys. We think you should be reimbursed in the manner in which you paid. Don’t you?

In the meantime, I’ve found that persistence can pay off. If you complain about receiving vouchers and ask for a refund instead (best of all, state this specifically when you put in your claim), some train companies may oblige. Be explicit about what you want, and why train vouchers don’t cut it, and you may be able to get your money back.

Are you happy with train vouchers when things go wrong? Have you had success challenging train companies on this?


When buying a train ticket you are entering ino a contract under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage which stipulate everything to do with tickets, journeys, refunds, compensation, etc. These Conditions are obviously unavoidable if you want to use the railway and probably, at the basic level, override all other forms of consumer redress, purchasing regulations, seller’s obligations and buyer’s rights. If the railway company gives you anything better than this it is no doubt entirely discretionary, non-contractual, and without any liability on their part. The Conditions make it very clear how compensation will be calculated and the form in which it will be given. The problem is that it is a very one-sided contract and is out-of-tune with best practice throughout the service sector. In its original sense, “compensation” is about putting you back in the position you would have been in if the problem had not occurred; with time being the essence of the contract that is obviouly not viable in its literal construction for a train journey so it would be right and proper for the customer to be able to specify – within reason – what they feel entitled to and the form in which it should be provided. Indeed, given that time is the essence of the contract on a dated railway ticket, giving only rail vouchers could be argued to be a lack of compensation in some circumstances so the customer’s requirements should prevail. I don’t recommend anyone to take this to a court of law, however, unless very deep pockets are available but I think it is high time the Rail Regulator took a look at it. We should not overlook the way in which the whole concept of late-running is loaded in favour of the train companies since an arrival at the destination station within ten minutes – for a long-distance journey [five minutes otherwise] – of the advertised time is still counted as “on time”, and in many ases the timetables are padded with extra minutes towards the end of the journey to recover from earlier delays This is how they achieve “punctuality” figures of 90% or more. That’s compensation!


When I was an annual season ticket holder on Southern I used to accumulate sheaves of vouchers for a few quid a time: you can claim for delays of longer than 30 minutes, and given Southern’s predilection to run trains fast through certain stations (the Redhill line is notorious for it) ‘to make up time’ this happens often. You used to have to save them up and use them when you wanted to go somewhere other than London. More often than not they got put on one side and rediscovered after they’d expired.

Thankfully they’ve changed the rules now and you can swap them for cash.

Morag says:
24 August 2013

ScotRail refused to accept my disabled daughter’s concession card and made her pay full price for part of her journey that should have been a £1 flat fare. They had her in tears telling her the card was only for blind people. I spoke to their Customer Relations who agreed she had been wrongly and badly treated but when I sent off the tickets and proof of concession as requested they never got back to me.

Anthony Mitchell says:
24 August 2013

I agree rail vouchers can’t be transferred or sold and they expire, if travel companies were obliged to refund in cash/card refund it might well prompt them to provide a better level of service. I also find the process of applying for compensation difficult especially as modern ticket machines take your ticket at the end of a journey forcing you to wait for a guard to release you. I also the National Rail Conditions of carriage and penalty fares punitive. In one instance I saw a passenger being charged a penalty fare because she boarded a station early despite the ticket price being the same for both stations. It is inflexible and criminalises a civil matter.

Gerard Phelan says:
25 August 2013

A friend asked me to use her rail voucher (received for delays) because she rarely travelled by rail. Trouble is that most of my journeys are short ones as well. The first time I could have used it, the best deal was for Advance tickets and the ticket office said it was too complex for them to sell and directed me to buy them on-line, which I did, but could not use the voucher.
It was three months before the voucher expired when I went on another long journey, this time where it suited me to buy the simpler off-peak return at the local ticket office and could use the voucher and finally refund my friend.

Given the continuing trend to encourage passengers to buy tickets on-line or from machines the issue of compensation vouchers that must be redeemed at a manned ticket office reflects an antiquated approach to customer relations.

Howard Fisher says:
25 August 2013

It’s not only the inflexibility of compensation by voucher that’s a problem, but the confusion of different levels of compensation threshold. WeekIy for over 5 years, I travel a journey on one Advance ticket that covers First Great Western, South West Trains and East Coast, with the East Coast part of the journey having to be on a specific train. It is by no means clear which company’s rules (yes, they’re all different) apply to a delay – the companies’ “customer service” phone lines don’t even agree. In addition, there can be issues arguing with guards on the East Coast journey when the delay was on the FGW line – which not infrequently chooses to turn trains round early when they’re late, not even turning up at my station. Plus, SWT seems to delight in rejecting valid claims for compensation – on several occasions it’s taken quite an exchange of correspondence before they actually bother to read my reasons for the claim and don’t simply reject it for spurious reasons. And yes, when they do compensate me, it’s by a voucher I can’t use at my local unmanned station or online, and as that’s quite an expensive journey the vouchers exceed the cost of buying local tickets which are the only ones I don’t buy online.


I recently claimed back for a delayed journey with Southeastern. My train has been cancelled, the next one not leaving for 30 minutes (which was then delayed by 10 minutes as well).

I went through the complicated process to claim my refund, only to receive a notice saying that my train hadn’t been cancelled and that it left on time. I wasn’t impressed! I had to call and explain the whole situation again, and ask them to re-evaluate my claim.

Finally, they agreed I’d been delayed, and sent me rail vouchers to the value of £6 as compensation. But I have an annual season ticket to London, which means that I never have need to buy rail tickets with Southeastern. Predictably – my compensation voucher has now expired, unused.


If your plane is delayed by more than three hours, you are entitled to up to €600 compensation. Wouldn’t it be nice if this rule also applied to trains?