/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Are train penalty fares a fair penalty?

Ever been fined for not having the right train ticket? A recent report from Passenger Focus highlights how easy it can be to make a mistake, and slams the ‘minefield’ of rules which can cause stress and confusion.

This weekend I was travelling on the London Overground when the ticket inspectors came on.

One lady immediately panicked, as she couldn’t find the ticket she’d bought for the journey.

She pleaded with inspectors not to give her a fine, and produced the receipt showing she’d bought a ticket from a machine just five minutes ago.

Luckily for her, the inspectors were in a good mood and simply told her to be more careful. ‘Don’t worry – I believe you’ assured the friendly attendant, before moving on to check other tickets. But sometimes people aren’t so lucky.

All change please

Another time I had failed to buy a ticket, as there was a huge queue at the station booth and the one and only ticket machine was broken. I was running late for work so I hopped on a train to Liverpool Street, knowing that I’d be able to buy a ticket from the guards when I got there as I (and many of my fellow commuters) had done before.

Unfortunately, what I didn’t realise was that selling these tickets are ‘at the guard’s discretion’ – at least that was what the day’s less than helpful guard told me. He informed me that his colleagues shouldn’t have let me (or other commuters) buy tickets further down the line, and hit me with a £20 fine. I was not best pleased.

Passenger Focus has said that passengers are facing a ‘minefield of rules and regulations’ – I’m inclined to agree. I get as annoyed with fare-dodgers as anyone else, but I think the train system is now so complex that it’s catching honest people who just don’t know the rules.

All aboard the Confusion Express

If the ticket machine’s broken, can you still board? I know some stations have ‘permit to travel’ machines, but when should you buy one? Is it possible to buy a ticket from the on-board guard, or not? Or if (in my Liverpool Street example) the machine’s broken and there’s no on-board guard, then should we just resign ourselves to long queues?

Passenger Focus found lots of different examples of people getting fined because they weren’t sure of the rules. One elderly couple was issued with a £239 unpaid fares notice, because they boarded an earlier train to the one they had tickets for. They didn’t realise that they’d get the penalty – one of them had fallen and was in pain, so they were keen to get home faster.

The main thing that bothers me about this is the question of reasonableness – where is the admission that fallible humans sometimes make mistakes?

I’ve often sat on the train listening to a foreign tourist, young student or elderly passenger pleading with a guard over a penalty fine. The main refrain? ‘I’m sorry – I just didn’t know.’ If train companies are going to insist on so many rules, the least they can do is make them clear enough that everyone can understand them.

What do you think about train ticket rules?

Both of the above (76%, 142 Votes)

They should be made much simpler (14%, 27 Votes)

They should be communicated much better (5%, 10 Votes)

I think they're already perfectly understandable (4%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 187

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Andrew Crook says:
8 August 2014

Could Honest Passengers Be Unfairly Charged a Penalty Fare?

We all know we need to buy a ticket before we board a train or we may be subject to a penalty fare. Those who try to evade payment for their journey are being unfair towards the rest of us who do pay our own way. It is quite right that they should have to pay a penalty when they get caught.

But with a system that assumes you are guilty unless proven instrument, you even the most honest of us might find ourselves facing a penalty fare through no fault of our own. Here are a few ways that this might happen:
 There may be no ticket office or ticket machine at your local station. This is quite common on some quieter branch lines. The conductor on such lines should walk through the train and sell you a ticket. But suppose you only travel a couple of stops before changing trains and the conductor is nowhere to be found? You might then find the conductor on the main line does not believe your explanation for why you have no ticket.
 There may be just a ticket / permit to travel machine at your station but it is broken, not accepting credit cards, or a key may not be working on the PIN keypad so that you are prevented from paying.
 You may be using a smart card, such as Oyster, and when you held it against the machine it does not correctly register that you touched in.
 You might have joined the tube system at a busy station via some automated barriers and because you were too close behind the person in front your smart card did not register. If you then transfer to lines where ticket inspections are carried out via hand-held smart card readers (e.g. DLR, London Overground), you will not have a valid ticket.
 You may have bought a ticket ahead of time but it is not the correct ticket for that route or you may be travelling on an earlier/later train than you were supposed to.

In any of the above circumstances whether you are charged a penalty fare comes down to whether the person inspecting your ticket believes you. There are plenty of stories out in newspaper articles and consumer forums of where people appear to have been treated unfairly.

So, what should you do if you find yourself in this situation?

First check that you are dealing with a genuinely authorised conductor or revenue protection officer (RPO). Not all rail staff are entitled to impose penalty fares. In order to do so, they must be explicitly authorised to collect penalty fares so under section 5.3 of the 2002 Penalty Fare Rules. When imposing a penalty fare they are obliged to show you the following documentation:
(i) Their “authorisation to collect” document.
(ii) Their ID. Do not let them try and pass off either a name badge or a uniform as being their “ID”. Standard formal identification will bear the name of the authorising company (their employer), an up-to-date photograph from which they can clearly be recognised and either their first + last name or possibly a unique employee ID number.

Note down the details of both documents (they are obliged to let you do this), as this information may help you to appeal the penalty fare.

If they refuse to show you either document, then they are breaking the law. Keep in mind that as tickets migrate to new technologies (smart tickets, contactless bank cards, mobile phones), there is an increasing risk that criminals will pose as RPOs to defraud customers. So, if they refuse to show you their ID + documentation, call British Transport Police for assistance.

Next explain your circumstances and show them any proof you may have such a photo of the station where you boarded. Be polite and remain calm when interacting with them; becoming irate or shouting will not help your case. Keep in mind that you acted in good faith and that you are not a criminal, as the Evening Standard explains. Not having a valid ticket for travel is not a criminal offence, although the intention to evade paying for your journey is.

If they insist on issuing you with a penalty fare notice, make it clear that you are disputing the penalty fare and will be appealing it. You are not obliged to pay the penalty fare straight away and it is better not to pay at this point: it is never easy getting companies to refund money once you have handed it over! You have 21 days to either pay up or lodge an appeal against the penalty fare. You are obliged to give the ticket inspector your name and address so that the company can pursue the penalty fare. The inspector must give you a copy of the penalty fare notice and it must include the address of the company with whom you can lodge the appeal.

Ask to purchase a single full fare ticket from the station where you boarded to your destination. You need to buy a ticket for the journey you are making and proactively asking to do so helps to dispel any suspicion that you were trying to evade payment.

The vast majority of conductors and RPOs will try to treat you fairly and decently. Unfortunately, a small number are very heavy handed or even threatening in their manner. Examples of such behaviour might be: refusing to formally identify themselves, using threatening language, accusing you of being a criminal, suggesting that you should have walked through the train to find a conductor (you are not obliged to do this if the train company failed to provide working facilities to buy a ticket), etc. If you feel unfairly treated or threatened then call the police and ask them to attend the train. It may be worth filming the incident with your mobile phone, as this can be used as evidence by the police in court if necessary. Do not rely on the train CCTV: it often does not record sound and train companies may be inclined not to download it if it is not in their interest do so.

When you get home, write to the train company straight away to appeal the penalty fare. Ask for any CCTV from the station where you boarded to be held as evidence (in case the appeal proceeds to court).

It may also be worth contacting British Transport Police (BTP) to request CCTV from the station. Bear in mind that if you did not have a ticket because there were no facilities to buy a ticket or because a machine was broken, then others may be in the same position and may also have contacted the train company or BTP. A number of people reporting the same issue could also form evidence that supports your account of events.

Passenger Focus may be able to provide advice and assistance on how to proceed.


Tips for Avoiding & Dealing With Unfair Penalty Fares

Before Travel
 Buy a ticket before boarding the train if there is any working facility to do so.
 Purchase a Permit to Travel if there is a machine to do so.
 If you cannot purchase a ticket:
o Photograph the station where you board.
o Photograph any error message on a broken machine.

During Ticket Inspection
 Be polite and remain calm.
 Check the inspector’s ID and Authorisation to Collect document and note down details.
 Make it clear that you are appealing the Penalty Fare.
 Do not pay the Penalty Fare on the spot.
 Purchase a full single fare covering your entire journey.
 Provide your name and address.
 Make sure you are given a copy of the Penalty Fare Notice and that has the train company address on it.
 Film the incident if you feel it is necessary for your own protection.

 Contact the train company to appeal the Penalty Fare. Request CCTV to be retained.
 Contact British Transport Police if you need evidence to support your case, e.g. CCTV.

 You are not a criminal if you were not trying to evade payment.
 The conductor/RPO must show you their documentation & let you note details (PFR 5.4).
 Penalty Fares cannot be charged if (PFR 7.3):
o There were no (working) facilities at the station to purchase a ticket.
o The station at which you boarded is not included in the Penalty Fare Scheme.
o Someone appearing to be a member of staff, i.e. in uniform, tells you to board the train without a ticket.
o Warning notices of that it is a penalty fare area are not out on display.
 The conductor must issue you with a written penalty fare notice that includes details of their identity, the Penalty Fare amount, the train company name + address for appeal/payment (PFR 8.3).
 If in any doubt about the identity of the inspector or if you are concerned about their behaviour, contact British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016.

N.B. PFR = 2002 Penalty Fare Rules

2002 Penalty Fare Rules: https://www.ircas.co.uk/docs/SRA%20-%20Penalty%20Fare%20Rules%202002.pdf

Evening Standard: 10 ways to avoid penalty fares: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/10-ways-to-avoid-penalty-fares-on-trains-6762684.html

Telegraph: Innocent passengers facing huge fare-dodging penalties: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/9280167/Innocent-rail-passengers-facing-huge-fare-dodging-penalties-watchdog-warns.html

Passenger Focus: Penalty fare guidance: http://www.passengerfocus.org.uk/faqs/ticket-inspection-penalties/what-can-happen-if-i-am-on-a-train-without-a-valid-ticket

Mayorwatch: Could you become a victim of crime just by showing your ticket: http://www.mayorwatch.co.uk/could-you-become-a-victim-of-crime-just-by-showing-your-train-ticket/

Pam Webb says:
17 October 2014

I had an oyster card to make a 2 station journey to Hayes in Kent. The train was entering the station and I ran up 2 flights of stairs in time to hear the doors beeping,stupidly I dived onto it not having time to get card out of my bag. On arrival at Hayes I offered card and apologised I fully intended to ask station staff what I should do. The inspector treated me like a criminal made me write my details on a scrap of paper and failed to issue me with a penalty fare notice.I would have paid it, and thought I would hear by post, this has never happened to me in 69 years. I got a letter demanding £40 as I had not PSID, but I was not issued with notice.Woman at London Watch was very rude and unhelpful.I realise that I should have touched in but this heavy handed approach gives all inspectors a bad name

ian gilf says:
22 January 2015

hi i didnt have a ticket for my journey from broadstairs to sittingbourne ,the rail police got on and gave me a fine i gave them my debit card details and about a month later they took it out of my account , in the mean time they also sent me a letter for this which had the same fee and an additional admin fee so in total its cost 76 pounds i tried contacting southeastern trains about this and they dont want to know what can i do please i have a bank statement with southeastern trains taken 28 pounds and we also made a payment to penaltyfares.co.uk where we have a refrence number and a reciept and there saying we did not make a payment but we have what can be done please who and where is the best place to complain thanks


Your station ticket office should be able to give you a leaflet on the train operating company’s complaints procedures and also on its penalty fares system which you need to check in the first instance to see whether what has happened complies with their policy. If your complaint to South Eastern Trains remains unresolved you can take it up with Passenger Focus which is the consumer body for rail services outside Greater London.Their website says they wil try to help resolve the issue and that the process takes seven weeks on average. Make it clear that your complaint is against the double penalty due to bad administration, not the fact that a penalty was issued for not having a valid ticket. Good luck.

DHack says:
24 January 2015

Hi, I recieved a fine in Dec for travelling in 1st class. On this day my morning train to work was cancelled causing me a 40 minute delay on getting to work where I had 6 employees awaiting my arrival costing me hundreds of pounds but who cares certainly not London Midland. On my return journey home again the train was cancelled resulting in me missing an event that night. As you can imagine the train was completely packed and everyone flocked to 1st class as did I, when confronted to pay a fine or upgrade I refused out of protest. I made my appeal within 28 days also requesting my 50% refund for my 2 journeys ( I might add that after years of travelling I have never made an appeal for refund prior to this day but simply had enough on this day) only to be told that the dept I had contacted only dealt with the fines and consequently now missed the deadline as you can imagine I was outraged even further as not even so much as an apology but an increase in the fine now up to £54. I am prepared to go to court over this and the fine has now risen to £74 threatening all sorts towards me. Can anyone advise on this please.


it has just to my notice i have been paying a fine back to hmcts since 2013 for bunking a train i did not bunk so in other words some 1 has been court and given my name in. i phoned them where i needed to leave a message for them to phone me back so they did almost a week later and they asked me why only now since they been taking money from me since 2013 which i informed them i didn’t know i thought what was being deducted was for my social fund loan where they are like what addresses have i lived in so i told them and they was like so we traced you back to their where they said i told the officer at the time it’s where i lived but i didn’t give my address to no 1 as it wasn’t me so she was like if i want to contest it i will need a another number and be 4 she give me it the phone went dead and i don’t know how to contact them or get the number or nothing. can some please help me.