/ 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?

Comments
Member

Who is financing the Rail Ombudsman?

Member

The service is funded by the companies.

Member

Thanks for the question. As wavechange says, we are funded by the industry. Every ombudsman is funded by the industry it investigates (e.g. Financial Ombudsman Service, Energy Ombudsman, etc) – so it is right that the rail industry picks up the cost for investigating complaints about its services. It is also an incentive for rail companies to serve customers well – good performers will have less dissatisfied customers and this will keep their costs low.

Member

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.

Member

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/

Member

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

Member

Both links are working for me.

Member

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.

Member

So all those Ombusdsman organisations regulate themselves –correct?

Member

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.

Member

I just wanted it put out on this convo John and you have put the facts as they stand correctly but nobody seems to think that is a problem.
Self-regulation.
I am sure I would be accused of “negativity ” if i posted the long list of self-regulatory organizations in the UK who have failed the public , including the Police Force/Pharmaceutical organisation/Food organisation/alcohol and many more which have caused deep upset /anger as they directly affected the British public extremely personally .

What you have posted John although true has in real life led public opinon to believe all those bodies need a real government body to impose penalties on them when they make mistakes as many of those “,mistakes ” aren’t minor but affect people in life changing ways .

They give rise to many counter organisations speaking out against perceived injustice even getting help from certain legal organisations to take companies/individuals to court .
I back many of them .
This has been forced on the public by wholesale deregulation to provide an “arms length ” government control which favours businesses and authorities not the British public .

For those saying -prove it Lucas– be careful as you might not like what you hear.

Member
DerekP says:
27 November 2018

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.

Member

Hi Duncan

To be able to deliver an Ombudsman scheme, you have to receive approval from a “Competent Authority” – in this case we are approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

In addition to this, the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) has recently consulted on their complaints handling licence conditions. This consultation indicates that the ORR intends “to proactively monitor the scheme’s performance for example its ability to drive improvements in rail companies, and understand the reasons for any challenges the scheme may face. Where the scheme is not meeting the standards which we and passengers expect it is important that it is held to account and where necessary we will seek improvements via RDG (the Rail Delivery Group).”

The full ORR consultation document can be found here: http://orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/28419/2018-07-26-consultation-on-licence-condition-6-complaints-handling-modification.pdf

Hope this helps.

Member

Hello Kevin thanks for the reply , I will have a read of your link.
You look like a reasonable person.
Slight hiccup Kevin my “blockers ” blocked the website -HTTP instead of HTTPS .

Member

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.