/ Travel & Leisure

Update: Rail regulator confirms compensation for delays is in a sorry state

Train station

The regulator responds to our super-complaint on issues with compensation for rail delays, and found a situation worse than even we expected. So what happens now?

It’s shocking, but not surprising to us, that the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found that 80% of passengers aren’t claiming when they are entitled to compensation for a rail delay.

In December 2015, we used our legal powers to lodge a super-complaint with the ORR calling for an urgent investigation into the behaviors and practices of train operating companies. After the backing of more than 40,000 of our campaign supporters, the ORR has now responded to our super-complaint.

The ORR agreed with the concerns we raised in our super-complaint (PDF) and has set out actions that are a short-term step in the right direction to resolve the problems passengers are facing.

More action needed

The ORR’s report found that train companies need to be doing much more than they are to help passengers get a refund when they’re entitled to one.

Just as we found, the ORR also saw some rail companies are doing better.

However, this is outweighed by some rather shocking findings of practices exposed.

One train company confessed in the ORR’s report that it’s not in its best interest to promote compensation to its passengers.

Three other train companies scored a dismal ZERO on ORR’s mystery shop of staff and failed to provide full and accurate information to passengers seeking to claim compensation.

Both findings paint a grim picture of the attitudes to compensation in the sector and seriousness of the problems passengers are facing.

Next steps for the campaign

The announcement is a win for everyone who has backed our campaign to Make Rail Refunds Easier. The pressure is now on the train companies to show they can bring about urgently needed basic improvements for their customers.

Where train companies have been found breaching consumer law and licence conditions, the ORR must take enforcement action without delay.

However, this alone won’t do. The problem must be solved for the long-term. The Government must now ensure that the rail regulator has all the powers necessary to be a watchdog with real teeth to put passengers at the heart of this system.

What do you think of the regulator’s announcement?

[UPDATE 29 MARCH 2016] Our analysis of ten years of Transport Focus data has found that passenger satisfaction has seen little meaningful improvement.

According to official Transport Focus data, passenger satisfaction with value for money has risen by only 7%, from 41% to 48%. Commuters expressed the lowest satisfaction at only 34%, which was an improvement of just 7%. Business passenger satisfaction had risen from 41% to 47%, and leisure travellers from 58% to 64%.

What’s more is passengers saw even less of an improvement to the way delays have been handled, with only a 4% rise in satisfaction. While satisfaction has seen little change, fares have risen by 54% over the decade.

Are rail companies doing enough to compensate passengers for delays?

No (91%, 3,180 Votes)

Don't know (6%, 208 Votes)

Yes (3%, 93 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,481

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I think the ludicrous franchising system is at the root of the train operating companies’ [TOC’s] attitude to compensating passengers for service failures and breakdowns that in any other industry would be actionable as breaches of contract. It is recognised that many, and possibly most, of the delays and disruptions are caused by infrastructure faults for which Network Rail is liable [even if not strictly responsible as weather plays a part in it]; the TOC’s are compensated for this at so much per delay minute – so why do the TOC’s hesitate to pay this compensation to their passengers? The ORR should enforce this much more firmly.

In order to get their franchises the TOC’s have spent millions of pounds submitting their bids in a series of franchising competitions. To make a winning bid it has to provide for as big a premium to [or as little subsidy from] the Department of Transport as they can possibly squeeze out of the franchise operation and for normal commercial reasons it has to maximise the profitability of the operation. Bids are probably cut to the bone in terms of service robustness and resources so paying out compensation for their own service let-downs is anathema to the management, and withholding Network Rail’s compensation from the affected passengers is just plain money-grabbing corporate chicanery. There could surely be a withholding penalty levied by ORR where this occurs.

Most TOC’s deserve to be excluded from future franchising rounds for failure to honour the compensation scheme but this won’t happen because the DfT needs these companies to run the railways and if they were all barred then the default provision would involve the Department running them itself through its own subsidiary Directly Operated Railways. While on a temporary basis [after a TOC has quit its franchise] this has not been noticeably unsatisfactory, it is unsustainable system-wide and would expose the Department to the full force of public and Parliamentary scrutiny which it avoids while sheltered behind the TOC’s. With Network Rail now back on the public finances and effectively a state-run enterprise the DfT’s position is heavily compromised as it cannot bear down on the organisation without exposing its own deficiencies in planning and budgetting for railway infrastructure improvements. The DfT also has a stranglehold on what the TOC’s can do in terms of rolling stock provision and has made some dreadful decisions over the years that have resulted in ancient locomotives, carriages and multiple units being kept in service long beyond their design life with the consequence of frequent breakdowns.

So while the Regulator [ORR] comes out of this as spineless, the DfT must be held accountable for the shambolic structure and strategic decision-making that on the one hand have made them dependent on the train operating companies and on the other hand have made them incapable of sorting it all out without causing further delays and excessive costs.

Graham Hatton says:
18 March 2016

I do believe it is mandatory in France to have members of the rail watchdog on platforms giving out claim forms when a train is late. it should happen here. We have such a weak regulator.

the recent deal enabling compensation to be paid in money rather than those irritating vouchers (no change given, can’t be used online, can’t be used to go by taxi instead **grin**) doesn’t seem to happen. On my two most recent delay repay claims (both within the last few weeks, London Midland and Virgin West Coast) I asked for money but got only vouchers. Trying to swap for cash today (Virgin, Stoke on Trent) I was told it wasn’t possible. Please take this up with ORR or whoever, Transport Focus seems not to want to know.
Since some operators eg VTWC have money-saving internet-only tickets paying only by voucher is a rip-off.
Not everyone is comfortable with loitering around a queue at the ticket office trying to find a cash-paying passenger willing to buy the vouchers for money.
Hope someone at Which? reads this.
NB some operators (eg Chiltern) exclude delays attributed to non-railway events (suicides, blown down trees, etc) from right to compensation, others not. This is clearly crazy, folk should be able to buy tickets without needing to know the minutiae of different conditions? Another issue to chase?
Anyone come back to me on this?

If ORR were to fine them heavily they may see it to be in their best interest to give accurate information involving compensation and keep on fining them until they get the message.

got on train to destination train doors failed to open and i was kicked off 10 miles past my destination fought for 4 months getting compensation from scotrail

Why should rail companies bother to improve the punctuality of their services if they are not paying any penalties? It should definitely be easier to claim for delays. It would seem that the only way to influence theses companies to improve their services is by hitting them in their pockets.
My husband and I have used the Spanish rail system many times and we are impressed by their punctuality, value for money and cleanliness, it makes us ashamed when our Spanish friends have to use our railways.

Surely this is the time for the railways to be Re Nationalised and all the money given to these private companies to be ploughed into upgrading the network there would be only one operator to claim late train compensation from .

Kevin Cairns says:
18 March 2016

I have claimed compensation for a 30 mins delay with South West Trains only to be told they do NOT pay compensation until delays reach 60 mins!!

That’s another crazy thing – each company can set its own T&C’s for delay compensation.

The train companies are not coping with the demand for their services. I have seen the population in the towns and villages along my main rail route expand to the extent that there is not enough platform space to cope with paying customers! Surely local councils are providing statistics for the rail network? Cynically, I will say that the new ‘ high speed train corridor’ is causing more disruption than the time it will save in the future. There are too many individual companies having their piece of the proverbial cake with a continuous food supply being provided by a captive public. One network run by one company that is not helped out with government(our!)money, reporting to one overseer that has the power to cancel contracts without penalty clause compensation, is what is required! People want a service that they can trust to be on time,every time, with a pricing system that anyone could understand.

Greg Lewis says:
18 March 2016

When all and sundry have been complaining about the lack of information on compensation for several years, why is it that the ORR has taken until now to accept that there’s a problem?

The Railway Companies that operate in the UK are the most expensive in Europe! Why?

In short, because they are having to pay the government for the right to run trains under a franchise agreement, and because in order to bid the premiums necessary to win a franchise they have to charge high fares in case their market projections go wrong further down the line.

An interesting comment here:
which concludes:

“”So the next time someone says (or you read) “Britain has the highest rail fares in Europe”, you’ll know this is only 15% of the story. The other 85% is that we have similar or even cheaper fares, too. The big picture is that Britain has the most commercially aggressive fares in Europe, with the highest fares designed to get maximum revenue from business travel, and some of the lowest fares designed to get more revenue by filling more seats. This is exactly what airlines have known, and been doing, for decades. “”

I also understand that subsidies are higher in major European countries than the UK. According to Wiki 2014 / 2015 subsidies in billions of euros are:
Germany 17, France 13.2, Italy 8.1, Spain 5.1, UK 4.5.
Do i want to subsidise commuters and business travellers? I’d rather it went to the NHS, benefits for the needy and other good causes. 🙂

This dose not affect me as i am retied there fore i dont pay from rail travel .
I am happy to say . but feel for others that do paid and get bad service .
So im more than happy to vote to help others that pay for travel.

Fred says:
18 March 2016

This whole late running and compensation nonsense is a complete farce. Any compensation eventually results in cuts and fares increases, so we in effect end up paying ourselves for their late running.

Also what the regulator needs to be looking at isn’t the issue of compensation but how much recovery time the train operators are building in to their time tables. I recently made a journey where we were held at junctions for a total of about 30 minutes waiting time and yet arrived at our destination on time. Therefore in reality we were 30mins late, or put another way we could have arrived 30mins earlier. The operator of course will claim they have a good record of punctuality.

The only solution is nationalisation or firm government control, by enforceable legislation if needs be.

Hazel C says:
18 March 2016

This is a great campaign but what concerns me is that train companies will use the increased number of compensations claims as an excuse for increasing fares even further.

I have been trying since January to get 2 delayed train refund’s 5 email’s, 5 phone call’s, and 2 letter’s ( 1 recorded ) I am not given up

When my wife and I travelled by train from Mainz in Germany we were told that the train would arrive at 10pm sharp and leave at exactly 10:02pm. As the second hand on the large clock on the platform reached the appointed times, the train stopped exactly at ten and moved off again at two minutes past! What’s more, we were told that the door to our compartment would stop right in front of the clock. We were both a little sceptical, but again to our surprise it did! I guess we can only dream of such efficiency here in the U.K.

Andy Crawley says:
19 March 2016

Many / most UK mainline stations have coach stopping points labelled, and as set formations don’t vary too much the trains will stop at the same place every time as that’s how the platforms are laid out. You just need to know where to look.

The compensation you get from Rail Comps. is abysmal. For e. g. My wife and I paid for 1st class travel (Nov 2015) from Birmingham New Street to Stafford. We had missed our connection (due to the delay on arrival at New Street) from Stansted Airport using Cross Country Train Services, arriving over 30 mins late. They issued us a voucher for onward travel with London Midland Train Services. The 1st class section on London Midland was filthy with beer/cans scattered everywhere rubbish all over the place, dirty, wet stained tables and seating and a blocked and overflowing toilet. No visible signs of staff and rowdy drunk passengers on board. We complained to London Midland . They sent us a pathetic rail voucher of just over £6.00 for out troubles. This in no way compensated us for the delay (another one hour delay added to our travel plans, due to missing our connection) and also the sate of the filthy 1st class compartment. Would I use London Midland, an emphatic NO, except in extreme circumstances!!!!.

kaye says:
18 March 2016

I agree the money paid back to travelers is a pittance but why stop there what about delayed flights and people waiting around airports etc, this country needs picking up and given a good shake

Last year my son went to college in Brighton .. He travelled from Guildford and was very rarely on time . At one point the college were seriously considering whether he should be allowed to continuing his studies. One particular day they decided to cancel the train at Redhill with no warning or reason given he was told he could continue his journey by going back to guildford and getting a different train he could also use the same ticket. When he got to guildford he was told that this was not the case and that he was not correct In saying that the train had been cancelled this was by an employee who was also told my son was deaf and insisted on talking as if he wasn’t. When we tried to claim for the journey that was cancelled we gave up because we just couldn’t find out who to claim from we were told conflicting information and generly given the runaround.

Iain says:
18 March 2016

It sums up the industry approach to customer service that the main TOC I use has blocked me on Twitter seemingly because I’m one of many passengers who think two months is too long to repair a broken information screen. All we ask for is progress updates and a timescale. They have repeatedly promised improved communication yet consistently fail, you often rely on things like Twitter or word of mouth from fellow commuters. Presumably they’ll block which too. After all we passengers are so unreasonable expecting them to deliver the advertised service and the improvements that they promised. The chasm between compensation received from network rail and that paid to passengers is scandalous – if the figures I’ve seen are correct that is the biggest profit area for the abysmal mess that is Govia Thameslink.