/ Travel & Leisure

Why isn’t it easier to claim rail fare compensation?

Train at night

If your train’s late, you might think it’s simply the length of the delay that matters when claiming compensation. You’d be wrong. No wonder many of us are confused about what we’re entitled to when our trains get delayed.

Lateness is just one factor in successfully getting compensation. Since each train company has a different agreement with the government, all agreed at different times, there’s a big range of entitlements.

For an hour’s delay on a long distance train, you can get anything from 25-100% of your fare back. And half of firms give no compensation if you’re delayed more than 30 minutes but less than 1 hour. Some train companies even have different compensation levels for different bits of their network.

Rail vouchers and refunds

And if all these delays have put you off train travel, you may not be delighted to hear that compensation often comes in rail vouchers! There is one advantage to this – the vouchers can thankfully be used with any train company, not just the one you were delayed on.

To add confusion, refunds (available only if you haven’t used your ticket) come under a totally different system to compensation. This might sound totally mad, but separate rules generally make refunds much more generous than compensation for delays.

This leads to the bizarre result that if there was an event outside the rail industry’s control, such as bad snow (for which you’d get no compensation), you’d be better off staying at home and claiming a refund, rather than getting on a delayed train.

Annual ticket holders left out

You might be left out entirely if you’ve got a monthly or annual season ticket! Confused yet?

What I mean is that although most rail companies let you claim compensation if you’re delayed beyond a certain time, many won’t do the same for monthly or annual ticket holders. So, despite forking out say five grand for your annual ticket, you could get nothing.

Instead, some rail companies, like First Great Western, will only offer compensation if their performance drops below a certain level. This doesn’t happen very often.

So you have to be a bit of an expert to know what you’re entitled to. We think all rail companies should offer the very same terms for delayed trains, no matter what type of ticket you have. Do you? And how easy have you found it to claim compensation or a refund from a rail company?


I think part of the reason why people don’t claim is that when you use the train every day, you just accept that delays will happen as we are running on a very old network with old signaling and lots of thieves!

I have never tried to claim compensation, I have never felt the need, I have in Germany though, air con not working on the ICE trains gives you a full refund for Koeln to Brussels. It was 100 outside at the time so I think fair’s fair.

I’d be more inclined to ask for a refund on a Jubilee line train though 🙂

Gavin says:
21 April 2011

I’ve claimed on both First Great Western and Virgin Trains and they’ve both replied quickly and very happily gave me my vouchers. FGW at one point decided to award 1.5x the amount of what they were stipulated.

One thing that isn’t well known and should be added to the Which? article is the ability to claim a full refund of a tube journey with Tfl if you are delayed for 15 minutes or more. http://www.mytubewaslate.com is a very handy free site that makes it extremely easy to fill in their compensation form. I only realised this 2 months ago and have £5 worth of vouchers already on my desk, with £5 more worth of claims to submit.

Related to that, the passenger charters for national rail companies really allow them to get away with murder when it comes to delays in London. Often delays are 10-20 minutes and therefore you can’t claim compensation. The Tfl rule in my opinion should apply to any rail and tube journey within the London travelcard zones.

Hi Gavin – thanks for commenting – it’s nice to hear stories of people getting their money back promptly and without a lot of fuss! I have to admit that I haven’t claimed refunds that I’ve been entitled to in the past, mainly because I wouldn’t have had a clue how to do it.

Dean’s point about just accepting the delays rings true as well – there seem to be so many problems on the trains that you do tend to get used to it. Although it took me a while – I lived in Japan for a couple of years where the trains are clean, cheap and extraordinarily punctual. It took a good year or so for me to get used to our rail network when I got back!

And Gavin – thanks for mentioning London Underground as well – I expect there will be a lot of Jubilee line passengers this week who might be putting in claims. Although it’s not specifically mentioned in the guide, our train delays tool lists compensation amounts for all the train companies, including London Underground: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/travel-rights/train-delays/train-delay-tool/

Graham says:
21 April 2011

I’ve twice claimed refunds from East Coast recently,with a very prompt reply. The guard made announcments on the train with details of how to claim via post or internet. On one occassion they even provided a taxi for final 15miles of journey as I had missed the last train.

I was impressed with East Coast earlier this year when they contacted me to inform me I could put in a claim for a severely delayed journey.

I don’t know if a regulator told them to contact customers, but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless and the refund was paid quickly.

One thing I’ve found incredibly frustrating though is the treatment of single vs return tickets.

As far as I’m aware, quite a few train companies (all of them?) will refund the price of a single journey if the train is 1-2 hours delayed, and will refund a full return ticket if the hold-up is longer than 2 hours.

When I travel up north and buy my tickets in advance, it’s invariably cheaper to buy two singles rather than a return ticket. And yet, when I claimed for a refund because my train was 2.5 hours late, I was only refunded the price of the single ticket. Why? Because I didn’t buy a return ticket (even though I did buy two single tickets – one each way – at the same time).

So they rip you off one way or the other – if you buy a return ticket you pay over the odds, but if you buy two singles the train company gets out of paying half the compensation you’re due when it fails to run a proper service.

And don’t even get me started on rail replacement buses…

Steve Swords says:
27 April 2011

I’ve made claims on both Virgin and East Coast and both had quick, clear processes. Indeed when our journey north on 7/7 was truncated Virgin paid for the taxi to complete the journey.

Payment of compensation by means of vouchers is a different matter. I book all of my rail travel via the net but you can only use the vouchers when booking tickets at a rail station. I feel that the rail companies do this deliberately banking on a significant percentage of the vouchers are not redeemed in the required way. A 12 month expiry is also calculated to reduce the numbers redeemed.

Why if you pay by credit card the compensation does not follow the same path?

I eventually received compensation for an £8 taxi fare I had to pay when I was directed to the wrong train by incorrect information on both the display board and announcements. The train did not stop at the station promised and there was no return train from the next station it did stop at because of the lateness of the hour. But, it took several letters and emails before I received £28 in vouchers; the initial replies were a flat refusal to compensate for the consequences of a late train and I had to point out firmly and repeatedly that my complaint was not based on the lateness of the train but that the information given was simply false.

Simply, I am not impressed by the way the matter was handled in this case and I would encourage claimants not to be disuaded from pursuing a legitimate claim.

David Russell says:
30 April 2011

I read the artical about trains being late and the feasco about tickets refunds and was supprised that no one mentioned the make up time that is put into the last part of the journey.
This is put into the time tabel between the last station stop and the trains terminus usually between
fiteen and twenty minutes so if the train has been running ten to fiteen minutes throut it’s juorney it will arrive on time(no ticket refund) for it being supposedle ontime

I recently claimed from Cross Country Trains as the train I was due to catch did not stop at the station owing to a problem elsewhere. The next train was an hour later.
I claimed because I read a notice in the station from another operator that promoted it’s “delay and pay” scheme. So I decided to check the website of x-country. It took some finding, but when I did find the appropriate details, I wrote and received a reply within a month with a full refund – in vouchers for any rail operator.

H J Hill says:
12 May 2011

When a journey from KX to Leeds took over 7 hours, GNER paid the refund by cheque. When the same journey with NXEC took over 6 hours, I got vouchers to claim against future travel. On that occasion, the delay was due to a failure of Network Rail’s signalling system; and I bet they didn’t contractually compensate NXEC with vouchers. I suspect the same iniquitous arrangements still apply, even though the train operators change.

Stewart says:
12 May 2011

Refunds should be in cash (or by credit card refund) not in vouchers. The rail companies accept the vouchers only for the most expensive tickets – not for the cheap tickets that are booked well in advance. So it can cost you MORE with a voucher than without!

Billy says:
13 May 2011

For commuters making short train journeys the common requirement that your train needs to be 30 minutes late before you can claim compensation doesn’t make any sense. For example a 25 minute journey could be delayed by 29 minutes (more than doubling the journey time) on your way to AND from work every day for a year. You would not be entitled to any compensation. That seems incredibly unfair to me.

Harvey Allen says:
18 May 2011

On a journey to London in January, our train was halted at Swindon because, we were told, of cows on the line. Eventually the train was re-routed via Chippenham down on to the Taunton to Reading line and we arrived at Paddington 2 hours late. FGW refused any refund or compensation on the grounds that the problem was not caused by them and that therefore they were not responsible. In spite of a follow up letter from me they refused to allow my claim.

Kevin Cross says:
18 May 2011

I recently changed work location, from Brighton to Gatwick and found that Southern made claiming a refund such hard work, that despite wanting to continue due on a point of principal, I actually didn’t end up persuing things.
I had been buying a weekly ticket to Brighton, my change of location actually meant that I had a days travel left on my ticket, so I enquired at Brighton about my options. They advised me that I could “top up” my ticket to make up the difference in cost. When I went into my local station [Wivelsfield] on the morning of the change, they told me I couldn’t top up, and would have to pay the full return fair. I objected, but was given no option but to pay, but took a form requesting a refund of the difference. I eventually received a response, but they totally missed the point of my comments, whilst making it clear that they were not interested in my claim.
I felt that the fair and resonable thing would be to allow me to pay the difference, however it seems Southern don’t agree, and are happy for me to have paid almost double the fare.

Jo says:
21 May 2011

Generally my local train company pays compensation for lateness with no quibbles. However I had a situation last year which I thought was unfair. There were line problems on a particular day, and they first delayed, and then cancelled trains and laid on a bus to a nearby station on another line. They stopped selling tickets at my local station, but I bought a ticket at the other station and reached London via this alternative route. I was still over an hour late for my meeting. However, as I had not bought a ticket for the delayed/cancelled trains, but only had a ticket for the alternative line, where the trains were running normally, the rail company told me I had no claim for compensation.

I think they should have continued selling tickets at my local station as that was the starting point of people’s journeys, and included the bus and subsequent train from the other station as the overall journey and then assessed the delay that way.

Ian Young says:
27 May 2011

I was delayed with East Coast Trains on the 15 April on route to London. On arriving home an E-mail had been sent from East Coast on the 18 April offering me compensation. I completed the form on line and then received a full refund of my fare.

Geoffrey Bignell says:
30 November 2011

On 26 March 2011 I was travelling with East Coast from London Euston to Inverness. The train got to Edinburgh at 22.30, some 6 hours late. The prospect of the 23.33 to Stirling, change for Perth, and a bus from Perth to Inverness through the night, did not appeal. My wife and I got bed and breakfast accommodation in Edinburgh, but East Coast refused to pay for this (although they did refund the fare). Passenger Focus, the passenger watchdog, said they were unable to help at all. So I brought a claim in the County Court, which East Coast has paid. Passengers should not give up too easily!

break says:
9 February 2013

Normally I do not read post on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do so! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thanks, very nice article.

Recently claimed compensation for 2 journeys – very easy and received my entitlement very quickly.
However the vouchers are pretty useless to me as I buy tickets online , the cost of making a journey to the station is £9.50 and even then you cant be sure the ticket office will even be open ;the last tickets I bought were also a special “web only” price.
So Which? how about putting some pressure on to get vouchers accepted online ?

Hi rarrar, I know from personal experience how frustrating it is to receive rail vouchers as compensation when they’re not very useful. We’re currently looking into a range of issues with trains, so if you’d like to share your story, we may look into the issue in the near future.

Lee Alderson says:
24 April 2013


This is a brief of the court case heard at Skipton County Courts on the 12/4/2013 Claim no 2QZ54895 at 11am

My court case with East Coast Main Line was that on the 21st of October 2012 I was travelling back from Heathrow to Leeds using East Coast trains after a business trip. The train became delayed for over two hours meaning that when we arrived at Leeds station at 23.22 I had also missed my connection to Skipton.

East Coast Main Line Company were not willing to compensate me for my ticket from Heathrow to Leeds unless I accepted train travel vouchers. This was not acceptable to me as I am an infrequent user. I explained this to East Coast who still refused to make a cash refund for my tickets.

Today when speaking to Justin Hanson at court who is the East Coast representative for Information Governance and Prosecution Manager he explained that it was unprecedented for East Coast Line Company to be taken to Court over such a matter.

The Judge Ruled that offering vouchers by way of compensation should not be done as East Coast say they will refund 100% of the cost of the train ticket but this is not the case as for example foreign travellers or infrequent travellers are not able to use the vouchers within the 12 month time scale allowed for using the vouchers.

I have received my cheque from East Coast for £165.10 including costs

Please spread the word

Many thanks for reading.
Lee Alderson

[Hi Lee, thanks so much for your comment, your case is really interesting. Please note, we’ve made some small changes to your comment, as it broke some of our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]