Rail delay compensation – What are your rights and how can you make a claim?

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The botched introduction of new railway timetables in northwest and southeast England from 20 May 2018 means hundreds of thousands of travellers have been enduring delayed and cancelled trains. Meanwhile the usual litany of signal failures, points problems and staff shortages continues to afflict some rail journeys. 

In 2016-17, train operators handed back £74m to passengers; Govia Thameslink Railway (encompassing Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern) paid most at £15m, with Virgin Trains East Coast and West Coast at over £13m each. 

This guide should help you claim what is due to you when your train is as little as two minutes late (though that’s on one line only, and the compensation is sixpence). 

How late does my train have to be before I get some money back?

That depends on how late the train was, and which train operator was involved. The “Delay Repay” policy of most operators is to pay a partial or total refund of the ticket cost for delays of half-an-hour or more. On GWR, compensation begins at 30 minutes for Thames Valley trains from London to Reading, Oxford and other commuter locations, but an hour on other services.

An increasing number of train operators offer 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.

Holders of the c2c Smartcard get refunds for any delay from 2 minutes upwards, albeit at just 3p per minute for the first 14 minutes.

Does Delay Repay cover cancellations as well?

Yes, the crucial question is: how much later than expected did you arrive? It makes no difference whether the cause was a cancellation or a delay (or a combination of both) which caused an arrival beyond the qualifying time.

My train operator is running an “emergency timetable”. Can I claim on the basis of what the original schedule promised?

No. The test is whether the current timetable is breached. For example, Northern says: “If we publish an alternative timetable (for example for engineering works or during prolonged poor weather) we will compensate you based on that.”

How much can I expect?

The Delay Repay policy is based on the cost of the ticket. Generally the deal is: 

30-59 minutes: half the cost of the one-way journey (ie a quarter the cost if it is a return ticket)

60-119 minutes: the cost of the one-way journey (or half the return ticket)

120 minutes or more: the cost of the one-way journey or, if it was bought as a return ticket, the full cost of both legs

This policy of compensation as a proportion of the price of a ticket. That has some bizarre effects. If you buy an Anytime single from Bolton to Manchester, for example, and the train is half-an-hour late, you’ll be compensated a princely £2.20 — half the cost of the ticket. But if you’re going on to London on an Anytime ticket costing £182, and there’s a problem between Bolton and Manchester which makes you half-an-hour late in London, you’ll get £91.

How do you claim Delay Repay compensation?

You can fill in a form either online (uploading a photograph of your ticket) or on paper, on a pre-printed form with a Freepost address; you should enclose the ticket. Therefore if you believe you have a valid claim, do not surrender your ticket at the destination station (or let it be eaten by automatic gates). Instead, ask a member of staff to let you through; they may want to cancel your ticket.

Passengers on Virgin Trains (West Coast) services can get automatic refunds to the credit or debit card with which they bought their ticket. For this to happen, it has to be an Advance ticket bought direct from the train operator, and for a journey which does not include any other train operator. 

What about season tickets?

The same principles apply, but compensation is calculated against the proportional daily cost of a trip. So if you spend £50 on a weekly season, the train operator will reckon each journey is “worth” £5, based on 10 journeys. So for a half-hour delay you could get £2.50, just 5 per cent of the cost of the ticket. For monthly tickets, the fraction used is 1/40th; for annual seasons, it’s 1/464th.

But if trains are running chronically badly, with many delays and cancellations, season ticket holders may get additional benefits such as a discount on the next ticket.

How is compensation paid?

Usually you can choose from three or four main methods: 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.

Some operators offer alternatives such as “a free ticket anywhere on the Northern network”, which depending on your circumstances and travel plans could be much more valuable. 

How long does the process usually take?

In normal times, a week or two. But Northern, one of the worst-affected operators, says: “We are currently experiencing high numbers of Delay Repay claims which has resulted in a extended processing time. We apologise for this, and please rest assured that all claims will be processed, and, if a claim is valid, compensation will be paid in the method requested.”

What are the rules on Eurostar?

The Channel Tunnel train operator does things differently. Its compensation begins at one hour, and is only 25 per cent of the one-way fare for delays of up to two hours. Two to three hours of delay qualifies for half the value of the ticket; above three hours, 75 per cent. Refunds are made in the form of e-vouchers for future Eurostar journeys, and must be used within a year of the original journey. 

But one refreshing difference: so long as you wait 24 hours from the delayed train, the firm promises: “We’ll email your e-voucher to you within five minutes and you can use it immediately at eurostar.com.”

What about extra costs I have incurred, such as taking a taxi, staying in a hotel, payments for additional child care or theatre tickets I couldn’t use?

You will need to apply to the train operator citing the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The relevant section of this law basically says the train operator must perform the service with reasonable care and skill, and the traveller is entitled to rely on what has been promised (ie the timetable).

To make a claim, you will need to provide all receipts and explain why the costs are necessary and reasonable. For example, a taxi home mid-evening rather than a bus because you’re fed up probably wouldn’t count, but if the train arrived after the last bus had gone, it probably would.

You cannot use the automated system; you will need to liaise with the customer service department, and the process may take some weeks.

What about the time I have lost and the stress I have endured?

It’s hard to put a price on stress and upset, so they don’t. Only consequential financial losses will be considered.

What could be done better?

A bigger effort to make sure everyone who’s affected is given a chance to claim, for example with on-board announcements, staff meeting late trains and handing passengers Delay Repay claim forms, and more automation for those with Advance tickets who have bought direct (the same system should apply to flight delay compensation).

If the rail industry really wants to show how much it cares, how about a desk at key stations where, after a train is half-an-hour late or more, actual cash is handed out on production of tickets?

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