/ Travel & Leisure

Delay repay hell – delayed rail passengers need auto-comp

waiting for train

Recently, Huw Merriman MP called for legislation to introduce auto-comp for delayed rail and air passengers. After a poor experience trying to use the current delay repay system, guest Matt Woosnam is right behind it…

It is no secret that claiming on Delay Repay from Train Operating Companies (TOCs) is more challenging than it needs to be – or than it should be.

Many people are unaware of the existence of ‘Delay Repay’ (a national scheme train companies use to compensate passengers for delays) – and for those who are, many simply don’t want to put the effort in to apply.

How does delay repay work?

Claiming through Delay Repay involves finding out the exact time your train was due in, and completing a captcha to prove you are not a robot. But people don’t have the time or the inclination to complete boring, long-winded forms.

I am not usually one of those people, but when I experienced a delay due to my train being cancelled on Chiltern Railways, I looked to find a way of submitting a claim and very nearly decided against it.

Firstly, I found no obvious page for claiming for a delay on the Chiltern Railways website. It is under ‘compensation’ – a little confusing, albeit accurate. The online form redirects you to a contact us page. Upon scouring the form, I finally came to instructions on how to submit a claim if you are delayed by 30 minutes or more:

‘If you are delayed on a Chiltern Railways journey and the cause of the delay was within the railway industry control you can claim compensation. You must make a claim within 28 days of travel. You can claim this by filling in the form at the bottom of this page and attaching a photo of your ticket, cut in half diagonally.’

Too many barriers to claim

There are several issues with this requirement. Firstly, unless you are travelling to a station without ticket barriers, it is going to be swallowed by the barrier at your destination. If you aren’t aware of the requirement to have the ticket, how can you submit it once it has gone?

The other issue is the bizarre request to cut the ticket in half diagonally. Quite why this is necessary is beyond me. I have experience of completing these delay forms, but was unaware of this, and no longer had my ticket for the reason above.

There was also no staff member on the gate at Marylebone, where the train terminated, so I had no way of going through the barriers while keeping my ticket. As it turned out I submitted the photo of my ticket I had taken, which happened to be accepted. But even then, I had calculated my delay incorrectly and fell just short of the 30 minute delay period – so after all of that my claim was declined.

It’s time to introduce auto-compensation

The process with many Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to claim delay repay requires effort which most people see as not worth their time for what can be as little as 50p or £1. In my mind, automatic delay repay should be introduced for delays of 15 minutes or more, regardless of what length a passenger’s journey is.

This is a subject that was raised here on Which? Convo very recently by MP Huw Merriman who has proposed for legislation to introduce auto-comp on rail and air passengers. Here he explains how it would work:

“This Bill would ensure that passengers on trains, flights and other domestic transport systems, have their bank accounts automatically credited with the compensation owed to them without first having to work out what their rights are or try and apply for it.”

This would be a far simpler process, and it also puts the onus on the TOCs to implement it. After all, they receive the money from Network Rail if it isn’t their fault, so at the moment they stand to profit from making it as difficult and complicated as possible.

What’s your experience of delay repay – have you ever had success using the system or have you avoided it because it’s too long and complicated? Some train companies already offer automatic compensation, is yours one of them? Would you like to see auto-compensation introduced across all train companies?

This is a guest contribution from Matt Woosnam. All views expressed here are Matt’s own and not necessarily also shared by Which?.

We contacted Chiltern Railways for a response to Matt’s experience. A spokesperson for Chiltern Railways said:

‘We are disappointed that Mr Woosnam has found our Delay Compensation process to be more cumbersome than he would like.

‘As one of the most punctual train operators in the country, the instances when customers who travel with Chiltern Railways are delayed long enough to need to claim for Delay Compensation are relatively few. However when customers are delayed, we actively encourage them to apply for Delay Compensation and aim to make the process as straight forward as possible, while also minimising the likelihood of fraudulent claims being made.

‘We have recently relaunched our website – there is a very prominent option on the home page that states ‘Claim Compensation’ which provides guidance on the Delay Compensation process.

‘We aim to publicise the existence of our Delay Compensation scheme across our network. Posters are displayed at all of our staffed stations, our website has prominent information and all journey specific travel alerts contain specific reminders that claims may be made. All staffed stations have Compensation Claim Forms on prominent display and station and on-board staff are encouraged to remind customers of the Delay Compensation scheme when felt appropriate. We also make automated announcements at our stations should instances of disruption be particularly severe.

‘We know that the positive promotion of our Delay Compensation scheme is encouraging more eligible customers to submit applications than has previously been the case.

‘To make a valid claim, we do require a copy of the customer’s ticket. For claims submitted electronically, we ask that tickets are cut in two before being imaged. These requirements are for audit and fraud prevention purposes. Staff will always be available (in person or via a Help Point) to help customers through the barriers in the event that they need to keep their train ticket.

‘We believe that our claim process is simple and transparent. We do not agree that it is a time consuming process. An application for Delay Compensation will typically take less than two or three minutes. The information requested is simply to ensure that we have enough information for us to validate and process a claim. There is no requirement for a customer to calculate their delay, or to say what time they arrived at their destination, as we do that as part of our claim validation process and will contact the customer in case of query.

‘Chiltern Railways consistently respond to all Delay Compensation requests within 10 working days and we aim to ensure that customers receive the compensation to which they are entitled as quickly as possible.’


I did my fair share of traveling into London by train in my younger days.

Even back then trains rarely ran on time and there were always delays and cancellations.

Compensation has to be paid for, and the only way to cover auto-compensation is for fare prices to increase.

I struggled to find the money for a monthly season ticket, let alone an annual ticket, and if anyone had asked me back then would I prefer compensation or lower fares, I would have chosen to put up with delays rather than find the extra money.

So perhaps lower paid workers ought to be asked if they would prefer to be slightly inconvenienced or are happy to fork out for higher fares.

On most services you could, presumably, cheat the system by claiming to have travelled on a delayed train when in fact you had not – commuter services in particular. And this is called “automatic compensation”. To my mind, compensation is given when you incur a definable loss – not simply inconvenience. Better to call it a “penalty” and as most people will only suffer inconvenience, any penalty should go towards improving the rail service for everyone, not just into the pockets of a few. It is every traveller who will pay “compensation” to the few through higher fares anyway.

Just a point of view. I am against compensation at every opportunity; I think it is an unhealthy culture. By all means compensate individuals if your actions have negligently contributed to a financial loss.

I use Chiltern Railways from time to time and find their service exemplary. However, as with all travel, if my arrival time is critical I will catch transport that gives me a reasonable time margin – just in case there might be a problem.

Incidentally, I don’t get compensated when I am delayed on a road journey because the Highways Agency have not provided enough capacity, permitted road works, or the services have not cleared an accident quickly enough.

I do not think the delay-repay arrangements are as bad as Matt is making out. I am not a regular traveller but make a return train journey at least once a week and occasionally there are delays, but they are not critical to me so I am not interested in claiming ‘compensation’. When there have been serious delays, usually caused by an infrastructure fault, or a level crossing incident, or a body on the track, the station staff are often on the platform handing out claim forms as the delayed train arrives, but many passengers do not take one. If it were made automatic the train companies would be paying out much more than they do now and that would have to be found somewhere: guess where!

As for being time-consuming, I think that is a ridiculous argument that undermines the proposition put forward in this Conversation. If commuters who are making return journeys every day, long enough to attract compensation for any delays, and who are familiar with the process, cannot find a moment to fill a form in when they are on their next train journey I should be most surprised.

I am more concerned to see that there are simple facilities for people who are occasional rail passengers to claim compensation for serious delays. People who pay in cash at a machine or a ticket office should not be disadvantaged just because there is no bank account to which to remit a repayment. There should be a consistent timescale and I would prefer 15 minutes as it acts as a better incentive to the train companies and Network Rail to avoid delays. Payment should be made within ten actual days of a valid claim being received [every day is a working day on the railways in my view]. And train companies should not accept more in compensation from Network Rail than they are paying out to passengers other than any additional operating expense incurred as a direct result of the delay.

I think the response by Chiltern Railways is fair although I think they should use the more familiar phrase “Delay-Repay” instead of “Delay Compensation”. It is apparent that they were aware of a need to improve their guidance to passengers and they have now done so.

I also think that Chiltern Railways should adopt the 15 Minute standard being introduced throughout the system with each new operating franchise – Chiltern Railways has a much longer franchise than the other companies and they should come into line at the earliest opportunity before franchise renewal. They also have shorter journeys than many other companies which means that 30 minute delays are rare, and, with no overhead electrification to come down and few level crossings, most delays [other than signal failures] are likely to be self-inflicted for which an avoidance incentive is justified.

Instructing people to cut the ticket in half themselves and post it is absolutely bizarre – what can this really achieve other than putting people off the process? It’s a bit of a defensive response from Chiltern, rather than addressing a legitimate concern, in my opinion.

They also clearly state that staff will ‘always’ be available to help customers keep their tickets, yet Matt says there were no staff at the station.

Chiltern is clearly better than certain other TOCs, but there’s always room for improvement 🙂

I agree with you George.

I was mystified by the peculiar instructions to cut the ticket in half diagonally and Chiltern’s justification of their process seemed desperate. Obviously the train company needs to have evidence to confirm the journey took place but with all the rigmarole of retention by the exit gates, unstaffed stations, use on a second leg of the journey, possible use of a railcard which might not be apparent if the ticket was cut in a certain way, e-tickets on mobile phones, tickets printed at home [as I do for journeys where the gates have scanners], and tickets issued by other operating companies, they need to come up with a better system than this. A simple photo or photocopy of the ticket should be adequate, or even a copy of the e-mail purchase confirmation if the ticket was ordered on-line. Presumably the refund administration process monitors frequent claims and would investigate if fraud were suspected. I haven’t gone into the complexities of refunds for the holder of a season-ticket or travel warrant or other permit to travel; the mind boggles.

I should be interested to know how refunds work for people who get off the train at a station before the train’s final destination [which is where the time delay is calculated]. Is the departure time in the public timetable for intermediate stations used as the timing point for any accrued delays? How are the public supposed to know that unless they have a copy of the public timetable and the running times of the trains [I know there are apps which give all this information but they are for train spotters].

I think the railways need to put their thinking cap on properly this time and come up with a standardised, workable, fair and consistent process that the public can understand. The process should be accessible so that no one is deterred from claiming if they wish to but not a free-for-all give-away that will cost all passengers more in the long run. And people should not be left to guess whether their journey was or was not late according to the obscure definitions of what late means according to type of service you are on. All aboard?

I am glad we have been given this platform for looking at the passengers’ experience of using the railways. Let’s just look a bit further down the line and run over the points that also come to mind . . .

When the railways were privatised in 1997 there was much talk, in defence of the policy, of the protection of ‘network benefits’. With the total fragmentation of the system this appears to have been neglected and we have many different companies with their own rules and procedures so the passenger is left completely flummoxed as to –

:: whether the service they are travelling on is peak or off-peak,

:: whether they can break their journey on the outward or return legs or both or neither,

:: whether they are using the ‘permitted route’,

:: whether the station they are going to or from is a ‘London Terminal’ or not, and

:: whether if they sit in an unreserved seat they can be tipped out further down the line by someone who has bought an advance ticket on the day of travel and their seat has been reserved remotely without their knowledge [you know who I am writing about, Cross Country].

Not only has Great Britain’s railway system been fragmented [Northern Ireland has a fully integrated system], it is going to get worse. The Department for Transport has found it so difficult to get a useful number of tenders for new franchises because of the costs of bidding that it is seeking to break up a number of the franchises and to split some long distance journeys between different companies in order to make the franchises more manageable in scale and profitability and therefore more attractive to new bidders. This will create even more different sets of rules and procedures. As they say, what goes around comes around.

There is a thing called the Rail Delivery Group [motto: Britain Runs on Rail] , which was previously known as the Association of Train Operating Companies but now also includes Network Rail, freight operating companies, and lots of associated industry ‘partners’. it is their job to bring some order out of the present chaos, especially on ticketing. It’s been waffling its way around the problem for long enough now and needs to start delivering. Just as a matter of fact, only 12% of Britain runs on rail.

Very good points John.

Living between 2 stations on different lines and companies, coming home, we used to just get the first train going our direction. One station is closer to leave from, the other easier to get a taxi late at night. We had tickets that cost the same, and as we had paid for a journey, ticket inspectors accepted them.

Now the rules and regulations are being ruthlessly enforced, I wonder what would happen now?

Your chance to tell the government what you feel about the GWR franchise :

I have a season ticket between Stockport and Sheffield, only since the summer. This line means I travel either with East Midlands Trains or Treanspennine Express. I agree the system is pathetic, I estimate perhaps at most 20% of passengers entitled to compensation actually claim. Here are the problems:
I remain convinced most passengers do not know, although sometimes announcements will be made on heavily delayed trains.
Each company has their own system, you have to register on each system to use it (for online).
You then have to note and input correct details of your journey, including actual arrival time, and provide a photo of the ticket.
I had my first claim rejected as they claimed the photo wasn’t good enough.
The companies play ping pong, in particular East Midlands Trains. I several times failed to claim on their system as they claimed incorrectly is was not their fault as Virgin manage the station. This meant I was unable to complete the form as it was automatically rejected. The one successful claim led to a cheque for about 3 pounds which arrived yesterday (now what shall I do, frame it?)
Even though I have a season ticket, and could be predicted to use the system repeatedly, I still have to start each application from scratch, inputting name address etc., and reupload a (now acceptable) photo of my season ticket. This is despite having a login to their system??
A couple of weeks ago I did another journey, this time delayed by Thameslink. I registered on their system, and then find I had not kept the ticket only a seat reservation for an earlier part of the journey. No compensation for me then.

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