Rail passengers unaware of payouts

High angle view of passengers boarding a commuter train

%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%More than three-quarters of train passengers are unaware of their compensation and refund rights when trains are delayed or cancelled, according to a report by rail regulators.

A survey and study groups revealed over 75% of rail passengers "do not know very much" or "nothing at all" about what they are entitled to when services are disrupted.
From the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the report also showed that 74% of the study participants said that train companies do "not very much" or "nothing at all" to proactively provide information about compensation when there are delays.

Only around 20% of the passengers said information on compensation following delays was readily available and around half said they were not particularly confident they could even find the information if they looked for it.

The ORR also found that there was uncertainty as to whether a claim would be successful and confusion around how long it took to make a claim and not knowing that compensation was paid in vouchers.

The ORR survey also revealed that only 11% said they "always" or "usually" claimed compensation when delayed, with 15% saying they rarely claimed and 68% never claiming.

Passengers also suggested more effective ways of raising awareness, such as prominently displayed compensation information on websites, posters at stations, information on the back of tickets, automated claims processes and compensation in cash or vouchers that can be used online.

This year, the ORR will oversee the development of a code of practice on provision of ticket retail information, which will be in place by the end of 2014.

The code will provide clarity on what information passengers can expect from their train companies, including information on the different types of fares, any restrictions that apply, and key terms and conditions, such as compensation and refund rights.

ORR chairman Anna Walker said: "Passengers must be at the heart of the rail industry and are crucial to its growth and success.

"We want to see that passengers are treated fairly, receive the quality of service they pay for, and when this is not the case, can hold their service providers to account."

She went on: "Our research suggests that simply putting information on a website, or only making it available on request, is not sufficient to help consumers be aware of or exercise their rights.

"Britain's rail industry needs to be more transparent and proactive in providing information. This includes data on passenger compensation."

The report was compiled from a survey of 1,000 passengers, plus telephone interviews with 100 passengers and four focus groups.

David Sidebottom, acting chief executive of rail traveller watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "When trains are delayed or cancelled, it is important that passengers are made aware of their rights to a refund or compensation."

"It is of concern that as many as 75% of rail passengers 'do not know very much' or 'nothing at all' about their rights."

He went on: "This is a problem that needs addressing. The top issues raised by passengers contacting us regularly include train delays, refund conditions and levels of compensation."

Among improvements Passenger Focus would like to see are providing compensation in cash rather than vouchers and enshrining compensation regime improvements in new rail franchises being introduced over the next few months.

Rail minister Stephen Hammond said: "I am determined that passengers have the best possible experience on our railways so I welcome the ORR report.

"Our new franchising agreements are ensuring that more-generous compensation schemes are in place for passengers and it is essential they know how to claim. I will continue to push operators to do all they can to make sure passengers are fully aware of their rights."

Michael Roberts, director general of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: "Compensation has become increasingly generous and easier to apply for in recent years.

"Latest available figures show that in the space of a year, there was a £3 million rise in Delay Repay (available if delays hit 30 minutes) money paid to passengers, despite punctuality hovering near record levels according to government-set measures."

Mr Roberts added: "Passengers can claim or find out about compensation on trains, at stations, online, through social media and via smartphone apps.

"But this research makes clear that there is more to be done to ensure that passengers know their rights. Operators are keen to respond to customer feedback and will continue to work with the ORR and others to raise awareness and confidence."

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "It is absolutely right that it should be made easier for rail passengers to complain. We found that 10% of passengers had cause to complain on their last train journey, yet three-quarters of them didn't. With satisfaction so low, it is important consumers know their rights and find out if they are entitled to compensation.

"Which? is encouraging passengers to formally complain to their train company and to share their experience on our website, which will form a dossier of customer complaints to be presented to each train company."

10 consumer rights you should know
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Rail passengers unaware of payouts

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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