/ Travel & Leisure

Update: Win! New rail passenger rights announced

Rail passengers

The 1 October marks the first anniversary of the Consumer Rights Act coming into force in most sectors. Most sectors, but not all: rail, air and sea travel were excluded from the Act. That is until now…

Following some extensive Which? campaigning we saw a change of heart from the Government with an extension of the Consumer Rights Act to also include the rail sector. On 1 October air, sea and rail travel sectors will have to fully comply with the Act.

Update: 1 October 2016, Consumer Rights Act comes into force for all travel sectors

It’s finally here, the Consumer Rights Act is now in force for rail, air and maritime travel.

Following Which? campaigning you now have new consumer rights to cover you when you travel. Your rights are now far stronger and standardised when it comes to claiming compensation for poor service and disruption. Importantly, all rail passengers could now be eligible for compensation if they feel the service they have received falls way below the standard expected.

If your service hasn’t been delivered with reasonable care and skill you may be able to claim compensation. Our free tool can help you claim compensation for a train, coach or ferry journey that’s been provided without reasonable care and skill.

We’ll now be keeping a close eye on train companies and looking at taking further action to test out your new rights if train companies are found to be letting you down.

Second rate rights for rail passengers

The Government was seeking to delay new rights for rail passengers until October 2017. During the Consumer Rights Act’s passage through Parliament, the Government made it clear that it wanted to permanently exclude passengers from some of the rights available under the new legislation.

We were dismayed that passengers were being put so firmly at the back of the queue.

Then in April this year, we saw the first softening in the Government’s position with the lifting of the exclusion for air and sea travel. Rights in these sectors are due to come into effect from the 1 October this year.

But there was a sting in the tail – while the Government agreed the legislation should eventually come into effect for the rail sector, it still wanted to delay this until October 2017.

We believe this would have been a mistake, leaving millions of suffering rail passengers and the Government wasn’t putting passengers first.

Rail campaign

As you can expect, we collected your stories and made our views known to Ministers and officials at the Department of Transport, and raised our concerns in Parliament.

Thanks to your support, the near 45,000 people who’ve so far backed our campaign to Make Rail Refunds Easier, and the many MPs and Peers who helped champion the cause, the Government has changed its mind, again.

On 1 October the rail sector will now have to fully comply with the Consumer Rights Act.

The Government wrote to MPs and Peers, and the Transport Select Committee (PDF) to announce they had withdrawn the regulations that were due to be voted on next week that would have delayed the implementation of the Consumer Rights Act for rail for another year.

Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, said passengers who are unhappy with their compensation, which currently varies between operators, will be able to pursue their claim through the courts if they fail to resolve the issue with the train company.

This is good news for rail passengers. In a little over three weeks all rail passengers will be entitled to have their compensation paid within 14 days. Compensation will be issued by the same method the passenger paid with, rather than with vouchers that some train companies currently use.

Passengers will also be entitled to payment for additional consequential losses, such as missed connections, and will be able to claim for any length of delay.

Consumer Rights for rail

So, we want to hear from you how will the change to rail passenger rights affect you? Have you any rail travel horror stories to share with us?

*We’ll be at Birmingham New Street station on Sunday 2nd October from 1pm and Monday 3rd October between 7.30-10am. Come and have a chat with us about your new rail rights and share your train horror stories.

Gerry says:
7 September 2016

It seems very unclear whether Delay Repay will provide compensation for ANY length of delay w.e.f. October 2016. The Evening Standard and The Times say it will, the Telegraph says it won’t, and Radio 4’s You and Yours says it’s Wait and See.

If you have to go to court to get compensation for a 10-minute delay then it’s just a pyrrhic victory.

Yes the 30 mins thing is rather vexing. My service is regularly 25-28 mins late and I don’t get a penny, but lose half an hour a day at Southern’s behest on an over crowded and rather vile train that is more than likely a relic from the early 70s. So retro!

Fair play that’s all people want however I can cope with 5 to 10 minutes but if it is going to be too long then I expect compensation as this issue is very rare in Europe.

Why not apply the Alternative Dispute Resolution process to rail travel, as in being introduced for air travel, whereby if your complaint is not addressed to your satisfaction by the rail company you can, for a small fee, put your complaint to a registered ADR provider whose decision, both sides agree, will be binding on both parties. Fee refunded if your complaint is upheld. Its a lot simpler and cheaper than having to go to court.

Gerry says:
7 September 2016

Yeah, right.

You just pay a ‘small’ £25 fee that might be more than the cost of the ticket and almost certainly more than the amount of any Delay Repay compensation you might get.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if your complaint is justified you should win and not have to pay anything. The air ADR varies from £0, £10, £25,. Doesn’t mean the rail one will follow suit. Would you rather go to the expense and hassle of court? Or give up?

Gerry says:
7 September 2016

I have no faith in any of the so-called watchdogs and regulators: they are all ‘sweetheart’ organisations.

The £25 fee is obviously designed to deter valid claims from being made.

There is no fee prescribed – I was simply suggesting an alternative to court action, a course that few would contemplate. The fee is, I amagine, partly designed to discourage claims with no substance and. no doubt, to help fund the service. Someone has to pay. It should not be overwhelmed with trivial or vexacious complaints that have no merit.

Eartha says:
7 September 2016

From my experience with the Ombudsman Services they are not fit for purpose especially when they are paid by the organisations they are investigating. I don’t see an Ombudsman Service for rail companies making one iota of difference. The rail companies will continue to do as they please just as the energy and financial companies.

The whole purpose of a delay-repay process is to incentivise the train operating companies to minimise the delays they cause to passengers’ journeys and in turn to put pressure on Network Rail to improve the network so that track and signalling defects that cause delays are reduced in both number and duration. To achieve this the length of a delay that qualifies for a refund should first be standardised and then be progressively reduced so that we have a general ten-minute tolerance at each station against the published passenger timetable – not the final destination time at the end of the route. For season ticket holders [for whom details are held] and for passengers with Advance tickets [which specify the services to be used] who have used a credit card to buy their tickets the refunds should be automatic [not requiring an application] as has already been introduced by some of the train companies.

I absolutely agree Eartha. Having complained a year ago to my my pension company who were refusing to provide financial details about transactions they had made on my pension funds they suggested I go to the ombudsman. I did and three months later I am still waiting for a resolution – and the ombudsman has closed the case!
What use are they??

J Nelhams says:
7 September 2016

A lot of journeys are delayed by less than 30 minutes indeed, the punctuality for London Midland services between Harrow and London Euston is so bad that some timetabled trains have less than 60% arrival on schedule during the winter, which makes me later for the connecting journey and yet it is not possible to claim for these delays. I think all journeys that are later than 5 minutes should be compensated for.

Much more is needed, fares, costs, privatisation got rid of, the rail cost in this country are mind blowing compared to Europe, or France, Germany and you can get a seat!!!!

France provides 3 times, and Germany 4 times the subsidy to rail that the UK provides. I do not see why my taxes should be used to subsidise commuters and long distance travellers. I would be happier to subsidise rail freight to get some goods off the roads though.

Simple. If your tax does not subsidise them, and, in hypothetically, prices rise and people stop using trains – then there is more traffic in your way on the road.

Yes, you can get a seat in France – on long distance trains you have to have a seat reservation; standing [or sitting on the vestibule floor] is not allowed, so you cannot just get on a train at a time of your choosing as you can in the UK.

Echoing Malcolm’s comment above, I feel that the subsidy for commuter fares should continue to reduce so that there is a progressive incentive for employers to relocate away from central London. It would not transfer much traffic to the roads because they are already running at capacity during the morning and evening peaks and congestion would have the same effect as fare rises – dispersing populations to other more sustainable locations.

I have no problem with tax revenues being used for capital expenditure on improving and extending the infrastructure of both rail and road.

The railways are a rare example of where there seem to be no economies of scale – the doubling of passenger volumes since privatisation appear not to have reduced costs in real terms and enabled any reduction in fares overall. Higher speeds and higher capacity trains have led to the travel-to-work zone getting more and more extended; this means that there is more under-occupied capacity in the reverse direction in the commuter peaks and more idle capacity between the peaks.

Overall, passengers now meet around 75% of the operating costs of train services but season ticket-holders are more heavily subsidised than those using services with unregulated walk-up fares which have increased at a faster rate than inflation.

Good Shout

disgruntled poor passenger says:
7 September 2016

What about compensation for the purely political strikes that have been taking place of late. What penalties are the companies / unions going to face if they fail to reach agreements ? Seems passengers are being held for ransom with rubbish services caused by politically motivated unions and under investment from money grubbing companies. Southerns owners should be forced to reach a settlement or loose their franchise, the group has made far too much profit of the misery of their neglected passengers Unions are refusing to adopt new tech, in fact the present southern dispute should have never arisen as the “technology” involved has been in operation for around 10 years now.

Judith Elbourne says:
7 September 2016

Too true. 2 more days with no trains on our line this week.

But the vast majority of the delays & cancellations on GTR’s (Southern & Thameslink) “services” this year have been nothing to do with strikes, and everything to do with abysmal management. I’ve got photos of the service stats from the middle of this year for the previous quarter, and punctuality was <60%. That at a point where there had been one strike. People really need to stop blaming the staff for what is almost entirely a management issue.

There is a comprehensive ORR report “orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/18699/performance-investigation-report-southern-gtr-august-2015.pdf” that covers performance 2014-15 for both Southern and GTR. A very substantial contributor to cancellations and significant latess was Network rail, with the train operators crew problems top of their list – particularly drivers not doing overtime, excessive sickness, training. Surprisingly suicides on the network caused substantial disruption. So the picture of Southern management causing “everything” is far from accurate. No doubt they had a part to play, along with NR and crews.

I wouldn’t say that working people trying to defend their jobs, and the passenger safety those jobs provide is political.
I’d call the Government agenda of supporting profit motivated train operating companies in their bid to increase profits by making people unemployed is political. I’m a daily passenger commuting to the City and I want a qualified Guard on my trains.
The train companies abuse the captive market they were given. We have the most expensive train fares in Europe. Money stripped out for shareholders dividends is causing underinvestment in the railways. And guess who tops up that underinvestment? Us as taxpayers subsidising those dividends! I say renationalise the Railways now.

“working people trying to defend their jobs”. This often means wanting to maintain a role that is no longer necessary, and I think that is a short term view. It leads to uncompetitiveness and ultimately the loss of many other jobs as an industry goes into decline. On the other hand, I think it is too easy to “let people go” who have committed to an employer, often by investing in accommodation, family life and so on. Not an easy circle to square – both sides have obligations. I would like to see all employees have a share in the business that employs them so they have a direct interest in its success and, hopefully, will behave in a way that promotes that success. So pay, bonus, share growth for example would give a direct financial incentive to help the business prosper.

If Southern, in common with other train operating companies, see the role of guard as diminished without any overriding operational or safety implications then I see no case for resisting that change, other than an intransigence, particularly when no job losses have been guaranteed. An evidence-based argument against that is what should be put forward to counter that proposed change, not simply a wish to preserve jobs.

There is no safety issue here, nor a question of job losses as all guards will be translated into On Board Supervisor positions who will be trained and qualified to deal with emergencies. There could even be more staff on some trains than at present in certain cases.

Penalties should be equally applied- both to Government and Uniuns

As Privatisation has obviously failed, time to renationalise rail. Oh I forgot most UK rail is owned by foreign state institutions who use the rip off charges to subsidise their domestic customers. How can Southern Rail make £100 million profit yet still get £20 million subsidy? Outrageous.

Go Ahead Group is a UK company that made the profit of £100 million. They have a number of transport businesses, including a part share in Southern. Southern is run by Govia, a joint enterprise between Go Ahead (65%) and French comany Keolis (35%). £100 million was not Southern’s profit. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go-Ahead_Group

I certainly agree that the way the rail system was, and remains organised is a disaster. But I remember years of unreliable British Rail “services” and political, Union manipulation.
The whole thing needs to be looked at by independent, knowledgeable professionals, not including any of the current franchise holders or any dogma-driven politicians looking to play to their tribe.
Unfortunately, as I am sure most of you already realise, the railways are not the only system which are seen as unaccountable by those who still apply common sense rather than subsidies.
For example, alongside the Big Six energy “suppliers” and the BT tele-stranglehold, did you know that the Coalition gov closed the Standards Board, which was an independent and effective means for plebs to hold their local councils to account? It was “replaced” by a “request” that each council introduce their own process for assessing and dealing with … complaints against themselves.
In Shropshire we know what it is like to have a determined, manipulating Town Clerk running rings around docile or condoning Councillors who are unwilling to even consider, let alone act on complaints from their taxpayers and residents.
Call to account? Call? Silence.

Although it is great Which have backed more consumer rights for rail travellers, how about consumer rights for students? STudents have little or no rights if something goes wrong with their courses or poor marking of exam. I am fed up with no consumer rights for students, come on Which, get cracking on this next to get more consumer rights for students. I have more rights if I buy one bad apple in a supermarket and then take it back for refund!

Hi Avril,

We certainly agree students should have ways to ensure they have fair course terms. To further Darren’s comment, we also have some advice about what you can do if there have been changes made to your degree course here: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/a-change-has-been-made-to-my-degree-course-what-can-i-do

Andrew McCulloch says:
7 September 2016

Sea travel may not have been covered by UK legislation but it has been subject to EU rules for at least four years

Graham Turner says:
7 September 2016

I am unclear as to whether this will alleviate the absurd situation whereby cheap advance tickets suddenly become invalid because connection missed. For example, I made one journey involving three different train companies. First train cancelled, guard on second train said ticket no longer valid and I would have to pay all over again. When I pointed out that it was hardly my fault that first train was cancelled, he said that what the first company did was irrelevant. So had to pay twice for same journey.

The guard on the second train was wrong.

Mr W Newbould says:
7 September 2016

Living in Scotland we use Scotrail which, in our experience has been fine, we have travelled on French and Italian trains excellent. We invented the railway but we have an awful lot to learn if we wish to provide an acceptable service.

Cyril Lanch says:
7 September 2016

SW trains gives no refunds unless delays are over 1 hour, whereas most train companies give a refund for a half-hour delay. Compensation should be standardised across all companies.

We have a station which had hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on it to modernise it for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles which is grossly underused due to the lack of trains going to the main city’s on a regular basis and also going south plus if the train company’s gave sensible prices people would use them more

I wonder, with the introduction of consequential compensation, if this will actually reduce the number of companies participating in delay repay. They will refuse any compensation if the delay is consequent on suicides and all the other outside-railway issues listed at http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/can-i-get-compensation-for-train-delays-and-cancellations#exceptions-to-compensation-rules

a disgrace

Just to add to the mix I pre-booked and reserved a seat from Coventry to Carlisle. When I caught my train the reservation tickets had been moved and occupants refused to move. Did not see a conductor for the whole journey and at Carlisle was told at enquiries that this should have been raised with conductor. If seats are booked and not available because of dishonesty or lack of personnel surely we should be compensated for lack of service.

Does the Minister realise that it’s our tax money he is handing over to the rail companies. All we want is our own money back for misfeasance.

Darren – I mentioned in passing in a recent Conversation [director liability for nuisance calls – 29/06/2016] that there had been no feedback for a very long time on Which?’s super-complaint to the Office of Rail and Road [submitted 21/12/2015] about rail refunds. No one from Which? has picked this up and responded so could I ask for this to be looked into.

Did the super-complaint actually get submitted?
Did ORR acknowledge it?
Did ORR respond to the super-complaint within 90 days but Which? overlooked it?
or, Did ORR fail to respond and we are still waiting?
and, What is Which? going to do next?

I have just noticed that Patrick Steen replied to this comment in another Conversation where I first posted it. It is a very full statement of the current situation and the ORR’s policy. It can be found at the Welcome to the new Which? Conversation Conversation. Apparently it was released on the campaign timeline and not brought back to the relevant Conversation topic so I was unaware of it.

Being over 60 I hold a Freedom Pass so as I pay nothing I presume I can claim nothing for delays, despite being equally inconvenienced by these as any fare-paying passenger. Is this correct?
But the real issue is not to claim compensation but to have the trains run on time and every day as scheduled. Do we know to what extent the rail franchisees are contractually penalised for delays caused by them (lack of staff, inadequate maintenance of trains, etc)? And equally what penalties are imposed on Network Rail for track and signal failures, etc?

Within the area for which the [London Boroughs] Freedom Pass is valid delays are rarely likely to exceed thirty minutes on any one train service.

So far as I am aware there are not yet any contractual penalties for delays to franchised services but eventually an excess of delays will impact on operating costs and profits. ORR wants performance to count for more in future franchise awards so companies with a poor record should find it more difficult to retain a franchise or win new ones. Where delays are attributable to Network Rail the train operating company can claim compensation from NR; this reduces the amount it can spend on maintenance and renewals but at the moment there is no better way of incentivising it to prevent and reduce the number and duration of delays due to infrastructure defects or failures. The amount of compensation obtained from Network Rail by train companies is calculated in delay minutes and greatly exceeds the amount paid out to passengers as refunds so any surplus goes straight to profits. This anomaly needs to be remedied so that train companies cannot claim more than they have refunded. Some delays to one company’s trains are caused by problems with another company’s service so there is a large bureaucratic delay attribution system within the industry where the companies fight amongst themselves and with Network Rail to make sure they pay out the least and reclaim the most.


As you make clear in your next post you do not live in London, and although over 60 do not have a Freedom Pass. I can confirm Leon’s concern: there are indeed significant delays and numerous cancellations, particularly if you have the misfortune, as I do, of being “served” by Southern Rail.

I agree, pureedfruit, that Southern is a complete let-down at present. I do use it occasionally and am always surprised at how long their short journeys within Greater London take but, in normal times, and, despite the low speeds and longueurs waiting for signals to clear at junctions, it does seem to keep to the timetable. Unfortunately, there is no compensation for train cancellations, only for delays to running services. My point was that most of the journeys covered by the Freedom Pass are not long enough to give rise to thirty minute plus delays so compensation is not available. Perhaps it should be, and for cancellations too.

I will never try to use the train for any travel at all now. The fares they charge are just too expensive!!! In the 50s I regularly used the train whenever I could even as a student with very little money most times it was the cheapest way to travel anywhere…..Progress ?..

Not always expensive, Bishbut. If you buy Advance tickets there are some excellent bargains. I can travel 120 miles to London and back, first class off-peak, for £20 or less. Admittedly, I have a Senior Railcard which gives a 33% discount but they’re still good value without the discount. Advance tickets have certain restrictions but they are not intolerable. I also have an Oyster card [loaded with my Senior Railcard] so that when I get to London I can use the Underground, Overground, TfL Rail, DLR and national rail services [plus buses and trams] very economically. What we save on fares we spend on better accommodation.

Interesting point you make about Advance fares, John . I’ve recently been engaged in a conversation with Phil Whittingham (MD Virgin Trains) about that very matter. While it’s true that the Advance fare is incredibly good value, knowing when it’s available is another issue.

We’re off to France in November, and we travel around Europe by rail. Virgin recently trumpeted the ability to choose your seats on their London-bound trains West coast service, so I attempted to do that for our outward journey.

To cut a long story short seat reservations are tied to the Advance fares availability, and the precise time that they become available is not fixed. It can be 13, 12, 11 or 10 weeks prior to travel, and the only way to discover this is to log on every day and check. If you have the time to do that then you can get first class club duo seats for very little. But it takes patience.

That’s right, Ian – there seems to be no standardisation over when operators release their Advance tickets and it can be frustrating trying to get the timing right, especially on popular services. Luckily, the off-peak London Liverpool Street trains from Norwich are frequent and under-used so it is possible to get a good Advance ticket even a few days before departure and our operator – Abellio Greater Anglia – provides a printable ticket you can use at the entry/exit gates so waiting for posted tickets or having to collect them at the station is a thing of the past. Abellio also send e-mails telling us when their even better deals are available such as 2-4-1 to London. East Midland trains are also good giving us low-cost access to Liverpool via Peterborough, Nottingham, Sheffield, and Manchester all on the same train with no changing; not rapid, but enjoyable.

I flew to Liverpool from Edinburgh last May because it was half the price of an advanced train ticket that I could find.

Unregulated fares on the long-distance main lines have gone up in price much faster than inflation so that even Advance Off-Peak Super Savers can be relatively expensive. The trains appear to be ‘ram-packed’ though, with floor-of-the-vestibule seating only on some services it would seem. Unfortunately we don’t have the plane option for Liverpool as there are no flights from Norwich; the trains are hourly but take just under five-and-a-half hours city centre to city centre. The super scenery compensates.