/ 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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Terry says:
18 March 2016

If I am seriously delayed on a train (or its substitute) my priority is to complete (or abandon) the journey.
If there are no suitable train(s)/buses/connections to complete or abandon the journey then a taxi to my destination or home (or to the station where my bicycle is parked) at the Train Company’s expense is essential.
EVEN AT UNSTAFFED STATIONS. If travelling with a bicycle I would expect the taxi to also take it.
This is much more important to me than compensation.

Not everyone has mobile phones.

A lot of the rail executives are paid more than the Prime minister which is ridiculous, also the rail industry carries some unnecessary passengers passengers (employees), one of the reasons the fares are so expensive.

Some years ago a train I was on was horrendously delayed. I asked the guard about compensation and he warned me that the company might have removed all the claim forms from the mainline station office in order to force people to ring up for a form. This turned out to be exactly what happened.

When a claim is made the TOC sends a voucher for use against a future fare. As TOC’s are changing to ticket issuing machines and removing ticket offices ie Thameslink, a problem will arise as to how to use the voucher towards a future fare as the neither the machines nor online ticket purchases have this facility at present.

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No, and having seen that it DOESN’T WORK- (eg in Transport, Health, and Energy, to name just a few areas, they are about to privatise Network Rail TOO! Talk about ‘iniquity’…

I don’t think you would enjoy the bike ride between Wandsworth Town and Tooting Broadway today, Duncan. I was there a few weeks ago and the area has changed out of all recognition.

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Of course it isn’t in the interest of a rail company to inform passengers the compensation they are entitled to. It isn’t in the interest of insurers to pay out insurance, either; it isn’t in the interest of grocers to give customers the food they pay for, and it isn’t in the interest of banks to give back the money depositors put into their accounts.
But when people pay for a service, the service should be given. Railway operators charge a lot from their passengers, and a lot more from the government. They do so because of the standards of service they offer, or are supposed to offer. If the service is not there, I can’t see why the charge is there.

You’re right. Maybe our FOCUS should be on forcing them to return to the former British Rail standards of punctuality (and courtesy, when passengers actually COUNTED for something). If they ran trains on time, there would be so much less need for compensation.

Having booked my ticket online with Virgin, dismayed that my train was cancelled due to a fatality. However, on my return home several days later, Virgin had already informed me online of my ticket refund. Bravo Virgin!

You’re lucky! I’m still waiting for a delay repay from last December! And the one before that took 11 weeks. In both cases, the delay was due to faults on Virgin vehicles.

Anthony Walker says:
18 March 2016

Wish “Which?” would get as excited about compensation for long suffering bus passengers – what about when a service bus is cancelled for instance? And as for the airlines – I think 3 hours delay is the absolute minimum before any claim from a passenger can even be considered. At least on the railway claims can kick in after just 30 minutes of delay.

Jeremy says:
18 March 2016

Re-nationalize the railway system. why should the French and Germans run our railways. Any profits go to the board members, who only want to make profits it should go to the British government.

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tony says:
19 March 2016

Vote for a Brexit and then all these operators , French, Germen and Dutch will withdraw from Britain and we will have to run the railways ourselves. Same with the utility companies.

I disagree – privatised railways never ever worked well in the UK. The railways were great when there was entrepreneurial development of the services back in Victorian time (and a bit before and afterwards). These were capitalist ventures but based on customer service. People wanted to work for the railways because it was a great place to work and they were proud of the service they provided.
The train service declined rapidly once privatised. Many lines were closed, trains became later and slower (trains have always run late but under nationalisation they were much worse even with the onset of diesel and electric trains) and staff just didn’t care.
Train services (especially inter city) have improved over the last few years but there is still along way to go but I don’t think nationalisation is the answer!

Mike – Where you have used the word “privatised” I think you might mean “nationalised” – run by the state.

There is no reason why the European continental companies could not continue to run train services in Britain if the UK voted to withdraw from the EU. And I would hope that in the same circumstances National Express [which runs the c2c Essex Thameside rail services] would not be prevented from continuing to operate a number of train services in Germany.

Trust that our support will have the some influence in shaming the rail companies in running an effective service. Also to pay up what is their consumers right full compensation.

Joan says:
19 March 2016

A few years ago we were going to Aberdeen after we passed Dundee the train stopped n driver told us train couldn’t get any further we were told to get off n wait for a bus to come we were with my son his wife twins of five months and their brother three years olday. The driver told us to stay on train as it was a wild and wet night he would arrange for a taxi to take us to Aberdeen. We waited three hours for the two taxis it was horrendous and didn’t get home till after midnight no further compensation was offered to us.

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Although I obtained a voucher for delay I never used this voucher as it could only be used at a station and not online.

Irene says:
19 March 2016

When travellingbetweenLille andParis some years ago,the train broke down mid way and we had to wait 3 hours for a replacement engine. Whe we eventually arrived at Paris we were met at the platform by French railway staff with compensation forms and reply paid envelopes to return them PLUS a lunch box with crackers, pate, an apple and a bottle of water.

Compensation should be automatic and not require that every single passenger is forced to go through the hoops of claiming every single time. Ridiculous beauocratic blocking. Until the penalties are punative these Companies are going to remain cynical exploiters of weak Government and weak governance, Mr Regulator and Mr Cameron Sirs!!! Put the people first. It’s our money that pays the fares after all! Refunds are due when the service is not delivered as promised.

The trouble is that, since the debacle when Byers (remember him?) decided to override the regulator in order to force Railtrack into bankruptcy so that he could nationalise it as Network Rail, government has legislated to ensure that ORR has hardly any teeth at all. In any case ORR has almost no remit to protect customers from the regional monopolies that most Train Operating Companies have. As others have said, vouchers you can only spend in a ticket office are another barrier to effective compensation.

The various regional and national incarnations of Passenger Focus don’t seem to have any teeth either, nor much resources for mystery shopping. I couldn’t get them interested in surveying the persistent mis-selling of tickets by South West Trains that I observe daily. I hear they have now announced plans to close all their ticket offices which can only make the position worse.

John Fyffe says:
19 March 2016

When train companies are found guilty of ripping us off, do not fine the company, they merely pass this charge on to us, the traveling public, fine, directly, the fat b…..s at the top, oops sorry, the company directors, and then you will see some change.

The Virgin train was late into York. Therefore I missed my Transpennine connection and arrived in Scarborough about 80 minutes late. I have contacted Virgin 3 times and have had a single “no” reply about my request for compensation (£30: it was a cheap ticket so it wouldn’t exactly break their bank!) We need some joined up thinking among these many train operators, as nationalisation, and everyone therefore agreeing on sensible timetables, is a pipe dream nowadays.

Mike P says:
19 March 2016

Whilst compensation is desirable I would rather have more effort put into providing adequate seating at rush hour. As a pensioner I find it difficult to stand for long periods and also worry about what would happen if there was even a minor accident with all of the standing passengers. It would not be allowed for animals!

Roberto says:
19 March 2016


If I buy a ticket for a train journey to somewhere I expect to go there at the time the train timetable says and not be late or cancelled, of course there are times when things can not be helped because of weather or breakdowns but most times it is the train operators that are to blame for not getting things right and in cases like that they should compensate the paying public as there journey could be very, very important and a late train or cancelled could mean all the world to them

Overall it is Network Rail that is mostly liable for train service delays [including weather-related events beyond their control] and it compensates the operating companies accordingly. The train companies have been less than forthcoming in making sure that the money NR pays them for delays is paid on to passengers in compensation. Behind the scenes there is a massive ‘delay attribution’ bureaucracy that argues about how much, for what and for how long should transfer between NR and the TOC’s, and between one TOC and another [for what are nicely described as TOC-on-TOC delays]. Meanwhile time is ticking.