/ Travel & Leisure

Win! The new Rail Ombudsman has arrived

People who have unresolved complaints with their bank, energy company or mobile phone provider can go to an independent Ombudsman, which can resolve it. From today, the same will apply for rail.

This is a guest post by Kevin Grix, Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman at the Rail Ombudsman. All views expressed are Kevin’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

After years of campaigning by consumer groups, including Which?, we have launched Britain’s first Rail Ombudsman – offering a free, independent and expert service that will investigate rail complaints for consumers who have not been able to resolve them directly with a rail company.

We cover rail journeys throughout Britain and will help consumers and rail companies to reach a fair resolution. And crucially our decisions are binding on rail companies. 

We can consider any complaint into quality of service based on the commitments a rail company has made to you, and your consumer rights.

This includes complaints about delays and cancellations, customer service, information given about journeys or engineering works, station facilities, on-train services, and issues arising from the Equality Act 2010.

Fair and balanced outcomes

We cannot look into complaints to do with industry policies or regulations. But we will suggest alternative options for these kinds of complaints and transfer passengers to organisations that can help, such as Transport Focus and London TravelWatch.

Once we receive a complaint, we will impartially investigate it to ensure a fair and balanced outcome. This will be based on the evidence given to us by both the consumer and the rail company – and where possible we will encourage both sides to reach an agreement.

But where an agreement is not reached, we can make a decision that will be binding on the rail company, if accepted by the consumer.

We want our service to help the rail industry to improve the service they offer. We will proactively identify issues – and the data we produce will help to challenge rail companies to tackle them at source.

Holding the industry to account

We will also publish quarterly reports so that a complete picture of rail industry complaints handling and dispute resolution is presented to the public. We fully expect Which? and other passenger groups to use this information to hold the industry to account.

With a track record of resolving disputes in the high-profile retail and home improvement sectors – including for Which? Trusted Traders – I am now looking forward to expanding my role as an Ombudsman to the rail industry.

We want the Rail Ombudsman to be easy to use. We’ve worked hard to make it accessible. And we’re now looking forward to passengers contacting us online, by phone and by post.

So from today, if you have a complaint with a rail company and you are struggling to get it resolved, then you know where you can turn for help. And we’re looking forward to helping you, as well as supporting the rail industry to better listen to their customers and improve their services.

This is a guest post by Kevin Grix, Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman at the Rail Ombudsman. All views expressed are Kevin’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.

Which? response

Alex Hayman, Which? Managing Director of Public Markets:

The launch of the independent rail ombudsman is a positive step for passengers, who have felt for too long like their complaints are not being taken seriously.

It should be a wake-up call for train companies to step up and start delivering good customer service when things go wrong. Then passengers will have no need to escalate their complaints.

We’ve been calling for this new body to address underlying problems in the complaints system for some time. Now it’s here, how do you feel about the announcement? Have you used an ombudsman to resolve a compalint before?


Who is financing the Rail Ombudsman?

The service is funded by the companies.

A ‘useful link’ to the Rail Ombudsman website would have been useful, but perhaps there isn’t one because all enquiries have to be made via the train operating company in the first instance. Of course, everyone knows whose train they were travelling on, or who operates the station that gave poor service, don’t they?

Oh! Mr Porter
Whatever shall I do?
I wanted to go to Birmingham but they took me on to Crewe.
Take me back to London – hurry, do it quick
So I can get my dispute dealt with by the helpful Mr Grix.

Morning John. More than happy to add that in, and here it is for reference: https://www.railombudsman.org/

And steps explained here: https://www.railombudsman.org/making-a-complaint/

Thanks George – I couldn’t see it in my browser’s search results.

Both links are working for me.

And for me. But Googling ‘Rail Ombudsman’ produced no results. George has now added the website address to the Useful Links section at the foot of the Intro.

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I suppose it is not considered necessary to regulate Ombudsmen. What do they do that needs regulating? Fail to adhere to their own standards for dealing with complaints perhaps.

The Rail Ombudsman is not a statutory service so it would be difficult to enforce anything. If a train company refused to implement an ombudsman’s ruling I don’t know what sanction exists other than public odium, unless ultimately the real regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, could impose some form of statutory penalty on the company for flagrant and persistent disregard of the ombudsman’s rulings. Disobedience in one franchise cannot even affect a company’s chances of winning a future or different franchise and it would not be the ombudsman’s fault if that happened.

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Who regulates the regulators?

A bit of a classical question.

As I see it, folk may complain of government operated regulators working in line with their government’s political agenda.

On the other hand, folk can complain about the “self-governing” aspects of truly independent regulators.

So neither set-up is prefect.

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Duncan – I note your concern about regulators, and the alleged deficiencies of regulation generally, but this Conversation is about the Rail Ombudsman and the Chief Rail Ombudsman has answered your relevant questions on that.

You claim there is wholesale deregulation – but there are more regulators than ever before. Some were created by statute many years ago, some were set up after privatisation of public utilities, and some are trade bodies with or without a statutory basis and not necessarily fully inclusive of all traders in the industry. Ombudsmen and Regulators are two different kinds of functionaries. There has been very little criticism of Ombudsmen so far as I can recall, possibly because they resolve complaints and don’t directly make policy but indirectly influence it, usually to the advantage of consumers.

The utility regulators and some of the others are known as Non-Ministerial Government Organisations so they are a “real government body (able) to impose penalties”. The Office of Rail and Road [ORR] has imposed penalties running into millions of pounds on Network Rail in the past for various shortcomings or failures. This is not always welcomed, however, because there is only one source of money to meet such penalties and that is either the taxpayer or the travelling public and freight companies, so now that Network Rail is a fully state-controlled entity the ORR is using other techniques to improve performance and deter breaches of its licence conditions and regulatory framework. Making Network Rail pay a fine, for example, takes money away from maintaining and improving the network so imposing penalties is a blunt instrument in many cases.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Rail Delivery Group is not a statutory organisation [although it has some statutory functions] but is a representative body for the railway industry formed from the previous Association of Train Operating Companies, Network Rail, the rail freight sector, and the railway manufacturing and supply industry.

Who is the “rail delivery group”? and what do they do? I bet they’d be no help to anyone like me.

What’s this “new” rail ombudsman? I tried complaining to the rail ombudsman previously about the absolutely APPALLING disability EXclusion resulting from the totally THOUGHTLESS design of the new generation of multiple unit trains, where the designers, or the operators have totally failed in their legally required duty under the so-called “equality” act to anticipate what disabled passengers will need in advance. But they couldn’t help, so my complaints were passed onto Transport Focus who tried to help but again only failed which is totally unsatisfactory as it effectively leaves folk like me with a virtual life sentence of staying at home and having to give up travelling anywhere altogether. Can you believe this is happening in 21st century Britain?! For crying out LOUD we invented railways, so we should be setting a top example to all the other nations who use trains. Why should anyone have to live in indefinite lockdown simply because of such totally thoughtless attitudes of those responsible for train design who obviously have absolutely NO IDEA that folk like me even exist, for which there’s absolutely no excuses as this is the information age. Yet those appalling ultra-EXclusive units are still marketed as supposedly “fully inclusive”, what utter NONSENSE! Just WHY is NO-ONE listening to anyone remotely like me, but instead only totally ignoring them and their needs and just about everything possible is being done to totally suppress all essential awareness of such people. Even disability campaign groups don’t want to know and they even use appalling intolerable sound effects on their online videos and again if I complain I just get completely ignored as if anyone like me simply “doesn’t matter”. Well disabled lives DO matter, there’s such a thing as human rights!