/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Rail Refunds super-complaint: the progress so far

Train tracks

The wheels are well and truly in motion on our rail campaign and super-complaint. We’ve seen some great progress so far, so it looks like we’re on track and on time, but there’s still more to do…

To bring you up to speed with the campaign, we found widespread problems with our trains in the UK when we conducted research last year. In particular, we found problems are especially bad with rail delays.

Last year around £47m in payouts for delayed passengers went unclaimed. So we launched our campaign to Make Rail Refunds Easier. And using our legal powers we’ve lodged a super-complaint with the regulator for our railways, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

We’d like to see train companies up their game and start improving their services – making passengers aware they’re eligible for a refund and also making that claiming process as straightforward as possible.

We’re not yet two months into the campaign so it’s still early days, but we’ve seen some positive progress so far.

Upping the pressure

More than 40,000 of you have backed the campaign, and many of you have shared your tales of rail fails.

Telling us of troublesome ticket refund procedures, Mat said:

‘I have experience on more than one occasion of my train company refusing to pay valid compensation claims, and underpaying claims. I had to make several calls and send multiple emails to get what I was due, but I wonder how often they get away with underpaying, or not paying at all.’

We’ve also been hearing some good news from Parliament, with the rail Delay Repay scheme being debated last week.

Tom Brake MP, Member of Parliament for Carshalton and Wallington, reiterated our concerns over lack of information on rail delay compensation:

‘Compensation schemes are badly publicised, and it is hard to claim.

‘A Which? survey revealed that only 36% of passengers remembered being informed of their rights after their last delay.

‘That points to a significant problem with train operating companies’ passenger information policies. It implies an unwillingness on the part of companies to make claiming compensation as easy as possible for their customers.’

And Minister for Transport, Claire Perry MP, also welcomed our campaign and agreed that improvements are needed:

‘It is absolutely right that something that is clearly not working for consumers is picked up by Which? —a great organisation—and I have met Which? To discuss the super-complaint.

‘My expectation of what will come out of it is that there will be a clearer understanding of who is ultimately responsible for sanctioning companies that do not pay compensation. Companies do pay compensation: there is very little evidence that they do not pay customers who are entitled to it, but the process is tortuous and much more difficult than it should be. We absolutely expect that, through a combination of the ORR, the Department for Transport and normal consumer measures, the situation will improve.’

A picture far from rosy

So our campaign has made some good progress so far, but the picture for rail passengers remains far from rosy.

The annual National Rail Passenger Survey has revealed that while passenger satisfaction is slightly improving overall, there has been an alarming drop in satisfaction for rail delays. Well, it’s no surprise that passenger satisfaction is dropping when rail passengers are cooped up in overcrowded train carriages, and some even seeking respite in the train loos… looks like a bit of a raw deal don’t you think?

So we’ll be keeping the pressure on to make sure you get the rail service you deserve and pay for.

In the meantime tell us your rail tales. Have you experienced a poor train service recently?

Update 29 March 2016 – ORR responds to Which? super-complaint

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has responded to our super-complaint (PDF) agreeing with our concerns and has set out actions that are a short-term step to resolve the problems passengers are facing.

The announcement is a win for everyone who has backed our campaign, but the pressure is now on the train companies to show they can bring about urgently needed improvements.

Where train companies have been found to breach consumer law and licence conditions, the ORR must take enforcement action without delay. However, the Government must also 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.


I look forward to Which? pressing for the relocation of offices away from London to reduce pressure on the transport infrastructure and of course get better air quality for staff. Has anyone measured the air quality outside 2 Marylebone Rd? Or inside for that matter.

Given the great strides in banning smoking becuase of the dangers of secondary smoking it does seem a delightful irony that people are being made to work in locations where air quality probably will be in breach of EU guidelines.

As to the capacity of the rail system it surely must be recognised that it cannot keep increasing capacity to accomodate rush-hours and be hugely under-used at all othe times: and still be profitable. Moving govt departments , and other businesses out must surely help. Particularly where it is known from the nfsynergy surveys that most members of the public dislike London base charity HQ’s recognising that these must be expensive to run and with higher staffing costs.

Alternatively of course is to price travel by demand so those who arrive in, say London, pre 7.30 pay 75% of the price and those arriving 7.31 to 9.30 a.m pay 150%. : )

As to mainline a similar system might be considered .

South West trains already does this – anyhow from our station, Rowlands Castle.

But I would still have liked to be able to get my fare back when I travelled five yards and was locked in the train for over 2 hours before they grudgingly let us off. To add insult to injury, after I had travelled 3 miles by car, queued for over half an hour and filled out a lengthy form, I was told that I could claim compensation only if I handed back the returned money, so that I could have my ticket back, because I couldn’t get my fare back without surrendering the ticket, and I couldn’t claim compensation unless I sent the ticket with the claim.

Another problematic issue is the terminology – this is described as “compensation” when, in all but exceptional circumstances, it is capped at the amount paid. This is more commonly referred to as a refund – the “Delay Repay” name is perhaps clearer.

This is not a principle we apply to the airline industry, despite the wishes of e.g. Ryanair. The customer / passenger may well incur costs unbounded by this amount especially, but not exclusively, when traveling on business. Also, in the event of a cancellation, alternative transport is often more expensive otherwise the beleaguered passenger might have taken the opportunity to avoid the unreliable rail service!

Thanks for doing this super complaint.

I travel Thameslink trains between Catford and Kentish town. I’m tired of spending my time reclaiming when I get delayed over 30 minutes.

I just had a claim declined because the service was 26 minutes late. This was in a week when the total minutes for Monday-Friday mornings added up to 1 hour 30 in total.

I was also declined a cancellation claim: their response being “Having checked our records for the details of the delay you provided to us, our systems show that we did not have a train depart at the time you specified. ” That’s right… because they CANCELLED it!

On the upside – over the easter break (when less passengers were getting in the way), the trains ran pretty well on time.

S. Evans says:
1 May 2016

Back in early February I tried to claim delay repay from Great Northern after my train was cancelled. I used a paper form supplied at the station. In mid March I got a letter saying that they needed a scan of my ticket, and suggesting I use the online form or send an e-mail. I tried to use the online form but could not submit it as a two-part ticket number was required and I only had a single number: without two numbers the form was rejected. So I sent an e-mail, with a scan of my ticket. At the end of April I got an e-mail from them saying that they no longer accept claims by e-mail, and suggesting I use the online form, which they say can now be submitted with a single ticket number. But they already have everything they need to process my claim, so why make me keep applying? This will be effectively my fourth application …

I have long outstanding refund claims for GWR journeys.
Everyone is very polite and respond to my emails, presumably to meet some internal customer service target, but the replies contain no information or action on my claims.
Duplicate copies of tickets and correspondence have been requested and sent.
I am totally frustrated as i need to book more journeys and have no choice except to use GWR.
I think I saw on a Which web page that I should complain to the Local Government Ombudsman rather than the ORR. Is this really correct?