Easy ride for rail industry on compensation claims

The email pinged into my inbox. The money pinged into my account. Virgin trains compensation for the delay to my train to Manchester, really easy just the way it should be. Of course, this type of automatic compensation only works if the train company know who the passenger is, has their contact details and they know which train you are on. So Advance, train specific tickets only. C2C who run between Essex and London now offer automatic compensation for smart ticket holders in their gated network. So it can be done.

The rest of the network presents a much patchier picture. You have to make a claim. Recent research we did with the Department for Transport shows claims rates are increasing. The proportion of people claiming for a 30-minute delay (Delay Repay 30) had increased from 35 per cent in 2016 to 39 per cent in 2018. However, only 18 per cent of people entitled to claim for a 15-minute delay (Delay Repay 15) did so. There were other welcome improvements in satisfaction with the actual claims processes.

So, what next? Train companies, building on the more widespread promotion of the claims system, should do more to build passenger awareness. Passengers need a 'nudge' to claim in the form of announcements on trains and at stations or forms handed out.

Delay Repay schemes must become easier to use. The introduction of account-based systems to avoid multiple data entries has made it easier but some systems are still clunky to use. We are doing new work on the different approaches to Delay Repay to establish best practice. Systems need to be more automated (not automatic for the reasons set about above) refunds that remove all the hassle and really build trust.

Why don't more of us claim? Our new research helps explain about the reasons for this:

  • low awareness
  • some people just 'never' claim
  • people think it's not worth it (for example too much hassle, forms that are hard to fill in, having to appeal if the initial claim has been wrongly rejected, low ticket value or your employer may have paid for ticket)
  • some people doubt they are eligible.

The railway's Delay Repay scheme sets out clear 'entitlements' to claim based on the length of time you were delayed. Currently the 'trigger' is either 15 or 30 minutes depending on your train company. However, the word 'entitlement' may be a misnomer. Under the Consumer Rights Act you can claim for anything you like – not just the length of your delay! You have a right to expect a service to be provided with reasonable care and skill and if it is not, and the train company is at fault, you have the right to claim. In such cases it is the law that will ultimately determine your entitlement, not the railway's rules – those rules do not affect your statutory rights.

30 minute thresholds are way too high and are slowly being replaced by 15 minute ones as franchises are renewed. A 29 minute delay on a two hour eight minute journey to Manchester is a long delay and passengers should consider claiming if they were not delivered what they were promised. I think this kind of issue may be suppressing the overall level of claims.

In largely monopolistic industries it is important consumers can claim easily. At the moment the rail industry is getting an easy ride when it comes to claims. It should be easier to claim. It's interesting to note that Ofgem, the energy regulator, is investigating four companies over their complaints handling. This November also sees the launch of the Rail Passenger Ombudsman scheme. The case fees the new ombudsman will impose upon the industry will act as a sharp incentive to improve complaints handling. It has never been more important that the passenger voice is heard.