Britain is perceived to have high rail fares in comparison to other European countries. However, the entire package needs to be considered and few people appreciate some of the ’freebies’ that the fare buys, including a generous refund policy when trains are delayed. Unfortunately some people have abused this – fraudulently – for financial gain, as a news article in the London Evening Standard showed on 11th February 2016 (see photo and headline above).
In the past a rail fare just entitled passengers to a journey and the railway would aim to get travellers to their destination by other modes (such as a taxi) if the journey could not be completed. However, in recent decades a ‘compensation culture’ has grown up and people expect redress if the service fails to meet their expectation or the advertised standard.
Britain’s railway does not offer ‘compensation’ to passengers (and certainly does not cover consequential loss) but it will partially or fully refund rail fares under certain circumstances.
More than a decade ago ‘Delay Repay’ was introduced. This entitles passengers to claim a refund on their train fare if their train journey was excessively delayed. The fragmented nature of Britain’s privatised railway made it prohibitively difficult and expensive to introduce Delay Repay across the country in one fell swoop, and so it has been introduced one franchise at a time as it came up for renewal and was renegotiated. The terms have change a little over the years too, leading to some inconsistencies amongst train operators (TOCs).
Railfuture has a www.railfuture.org.uk/Delay+repay web-site page that lists the terms according to the TOC. However, the terms do change and it is not possible to guarantee to keep it up-to-date so it must be seen as an indicative guide and the TOCs web-sites should be checked.
Most TOCs now offer the following:
- 50% refund on the single journey if delayed by 30-59 minutes
- 100% refund on the single journey if delayed by 60-119 minutes
- 100% refund on the return journey if delayed by more than two hours.
This is generous compared to other domestic public transport modes and, of course, a passenger in a car, van or motorcycle – or a road haulier - would never receive compensation regardless of the journey length, duration, fuel used or experience on the roads.
The government is actively considering reducing the 30-minute threshold down to 15 minutes. This would be exceedingly generous and many regular travellers could then rely upon refunds to reduce their travel costs, equivalent to a fares reduction.
Just as organisations exist that help ‘lazy’ people with a PPI claims, a commercial web-site exists (www.delayrepaysniper.com) to help people claim a refund (stressing that it does not condone any fraudulent claiming) but requires a subscription to be paid (after a free trial). However, there is no need for any passenger to use this service as it is very easy to claim directly from the train operators online without any cost, or by posting a clam from to the TOC. The web-site and mobile app pages are usually very easy to find – although Railfuture would like a standard naming convention for all TOCs web-sites - and can be found by entering “delay repay” into the search box. For example, the Virgin Trains page is https://www.virgintrains.co.uk/delayrepay. In fact Virgin has been pioneering an automatic refund for late trains paid back to the credit/debit card used where the person has booked an advance ticket on their web-site, so for those passengers there is no need to claim.
Railfuture is an entirely independent rail passenger champion – it supports Delay Repay - but also wants to see the railway grow. If too much money is syphoned off into refunds then the ability to expand, improve and modernise the railway is put at risk.
The perfect scenario would, of course, be for the all of the trains to be on time, so that passengers are happy, the railway becomes more attractive and no refunds are paid. Whilst no-one expects this to be achieved completely, rail performance should – if adequate investment takes place to remove bottlenecks in the network and causes of train and infrastructure failures – move in the right direction.
Playing fair on refunds of fares
What Railfuture cannot support is people receiving refunds that they are not entitled to. Therefore Railfuture supports the TOCs’ efforts to eliminate fraudulent claims, where the passenger has not actually travelled on a delayed train (or been affected by a cancellation).
Britain’s railway has excelled, by international standards, in making a large amount of train data available to software developers who have written independent web-sites and apps to make travellers’ lives much easier. The www.realtimetrains.co.uk web-site shows historical as well as current and future train times. As shown in the graphic below, it lists when a past train officially arrived (versus its due time) and checking against it helps passengers avoid wasted effort if they know their train was at least 25 minutes late but were not sure if it was 30. It also has a benefit to the train operator in that they will not have to process claims that were a few minutes short (it’s still an administrative overhead, with postage costs incurred, to process a rejected claim).
The downside of such information being freely accessible to the public is that a passenger could claim to have been on a different train just to get a refund. Of course, passengers need to be given the benefit of the doubt and must not be intimidated against making a claim, but TOCs need to be vigilant for serious abuse.
With modern computer system it is possible to spot the tell-tale signs of fraudulent claims, just as HMRC uses sophisticated algorithms to trigger investigations into possible tax evasion (such as large differences between consecutive annual self-assessment tax returns).
In the case reported by the Evening Standard two commuters submitted - and were paid - £6,000 for undeserved refunds, which a court has ordered them to repay as well as imposing suspended jail sentences. In their case the excessive payments (relating to a statistically very unlikely journey pattern coinciding with late trains) triggered an investigation by British Transport Police (BTP) who examined CCTV recordings to identify if they actually travelled on the trains they claimed. In fact the pair very foolishly made their normal journey into work whilst claiming to be on a train elsewhere so the police were easily able to identify where they actually were. Once one fraudulent claim has been proven the onus shifts to the claimant to prove that the other claims were legitimate.
As technology has progressed with the ability to store a near-infinite amount of data in the ‘cloud’ so CCTV recordings can be kept for years (there is no longer a weekly cycling of VHS tapes).Along with the law requiring detailed mobile phone records to be retained; employers logging use of smart door-cards within offices, and transport operators doing the same with smartcards, a person’s location on a series of occasions can soon be found. With this data the police can go back many years to ascertain the full scale of a fraud.
So the moral of this story is to play fair. Delay Repay is generous but it is not an income generator and anyone trying to do so is likely to be found out over time.
Railfuture would like to see the scope of refunds widened not just for late trains but also where the service is inferior, such as when there is a bus replacement, and the superior experience that passengers expect for the railway is not provided. The train operators receive compensation from Network Rail when routes are closed and this can exceed the cost of running a bus service and loss of fare income.
Railfuture has a wide range of campaigns to improve the service given to passengers. It is an independent campaigning organisation that is run entirely by volunteers and relies upon annual membership fees from thousands of members across Britain, and beyond. Please consider joining Railfuture to show your support.
Read previous articles by this writer:20-Years-Going-in-Circles, Mountain of Ideas, Sent to Coventry, Fare Rises - RPI vs CPI, New Year, Better Railway, Nine-Days-Rail-Surge, Tube Usage Hits Record, Passenger Growth Future?, Felixstowe Cut-Off, Passenger Priorities , Passenger Frustration, Accessible Travel, Eurostar Snapshot Survey, Stansted Experience, Widening the NET, Lacklustre Busway, Expand Eurocity network, Government backs Wi-Fi, Cheapest fares by law?, Bring Back BR?, Public Sector Franchises, Fare Increase Viewpoint and Tube Staffing.