In Depth

Compensation for train delays: how to claim a refund

Most passengers are entitled to money back if their train is more that 30 minutes late

The chaos created by last month’s new rail timetables sparked outrage among passengers as thousands of trains were either delayed or cancelled altogether.

The May change was the biggest in decades, designed to cater for faster new trains and upgrades to the network. However the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) warns passengers could face similar problems when the next round of new timetables are introduced around Christmas.

The fiasco has unsurprisingly caused many to take out their anger on social media, yet the majority of people entitled to a refund or compensation are still not claiming back money.

Am I entitled to a refund?

While the rules vary from company to company, most operators work under the Department for Transport’s “Delay Repay” scheme.

This allows passengers to claim compensation for delays greater than 30 minutes with full money back for trips that arrive more than an hour later than scheduled.

The compensation thresholds are:

  • 50 per cent of the single fare for delays of 30 to 59 minutes
  • 100 per cent of the single fare for delays of 60 minutes to 119 minutes
  • 100 per cent of the total ticket cost, including returns, for delays of two hours or more

The Delay Repay system is also introducing a 15-minute threshold for compensation, due to be rolled out by 2020.

The Independent says an increasing number of train operators are already offering compensation for shorter delays. On the Gatwick and Heathrow Express services, Great Northern, Southern, Southwestern Railway, Thameslink, London Northwestern, West Midlands Trains and c2c (between London and the south Essex coast), a delay of 15 minutes qualifies.

Does Delay Repay cover cancellations as well?

Under the scheme it makes no difference whether your train is delayed or cancelled, the important question is how much later it arrives at its destination than its scheduled time.

How to apply

You have 28 days to apply for a refund through Delay Repay. This can be done either online or via a pre-printed form available at most train stations.

Any claim will also require a copy of the relevant ticket (either enclosed along with the postal form or uploaded online) so make sure you do not throw it away or surrender it at your destination.

How is compensation paid?

There are four ways a refund can be paid once it has been approved by the train operator: a cheque, a refund to your nominated credit or debit card, a voucher exchangeable for cash from a staffed ticket office, or National Rail vouchers which you can use to buy any rail ticket.

The turnaround time once a claim has been submitted is usually between one or two weeks, although this often varies depending on the number of claims being processed.

What services are not covered?

It is important to note that customers are not entitled to compensation for delays or cancellations deemed to be beyond the train operator's control. This includes severe weather, trespassers on the line, and any mechanical or electrical failure not caused by the operator.

Refunds also do not cover operators that are running an emergency timetable or pre-warned affected service.

However, it could still be worth contacting the train company – MoneySavingExpert cites several instances where passengers have received vouchers as a goodwill gesture after suffering these kinds of delays.

Unable to travel

If there is no delay or cancellation but you are unable to travel on your booked train for personal reasons, you may be able to claim a refund by returning the unused tickets to the train company or booking service. Most companies charge admin fees of around £10, which will be subtracted from your eventual refund.

Under National Rail's conditions of carriage, if you return the unused ticket to the ticket office immediately, you should receive your refund on the spot. Otherwise, you have 28 days after the expiry date of the ticket to post it to the service operator, who will then send your refund.

Season tickets

In response to last month’s timetable fiasco, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has said rail season ticket holders caught up in the chaos in the north and southeast of England would be given the equivalent of a month’s compensation. The details are expected to be confirmed next week and payments made in early July.

For regular season ticket holders the same Delay Repay principles apply as with a standard ticket. Any refund is calculated against the proportional daily cost of a trip, so a £50 weekly season ticket based on ten journeys will entitle you to £5 back if your train is delayed by more than an hour.

If you decide you no longer want to use a season ticket, you can return it to the company from which you purchased it. As long as it has at least seven days' validity left on it, or three for a weekly pass, you can apply for a refund on the unused portion.

Be warned though – your refund will be calculated by subtracting the cost of a return journey for every day the season ticket was valid from the price of the pass. In other words, if the cost of the return journeys equal or outweigh the price of the season ticket, you will not be entitled to a refund.

If you were unwell and unable to hand in the season ticket after you stopped using it and can provide a doctor's note confirming the date of your illness, the refund will be calculated from the first day of your illness.

What about extra expenses?

Any extra expenses resulting from a delay, such as taxi fares, missed theatre tickets or additional child care costs, must be submitted to the train operator citing the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

The law says consumers are entitled to seek compensation when a service they have paid for is not provided, which in the case of trains, means being given a taxi or other transportation in lieu of a cancelled or delayed service.

Operators require a copy of all receipts and a reason why the delay justified the additional expenses.

iNews reports that consumer group Which? has accused UK rail companies of “misleading” passengers over compensation and refusing to accept liability for expenses such as taxi fares.

Which? said the refusal to accept liability for expenses was being issued by some operators despite the industry’s conditions of travel having been re-written in March.

The investigation found that the worst companies were Cross Country, Grand Central, Greater Anglia, Heathrow Express, ScotRail and Stansted Express.

How many people actually claim their refund?

Last year train operators handed back £74m to passengers.

According to Jason Webb from the Rail Delivery Group, representing train companies, this is an increase of almost 500% over the past five years, “supported by the introduction of quicker and easier forms of compensation, train announcements and email reminders”.

However, The Guardian says only a fifth of people who are eligible for some form of compensation actually submit a claim.

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