Law guide: Complaints & disputes

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Problems with UK train services

Problems with UK train services

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Contents

Throughout England, Wales and Scotland, there are 20 to 30 train operating companies providing rail services. Each company is required to produce a Passenger Charter, which sets out the commitments it makes to customers. This and the National Rail Conditions of Travel set out the levels of compensation that you may receive if a train is delayed or cancelled, or if luggage is lost or damaged.

In Northern Ireland, Translink provides the public transport. NI Railways, Ulsterbus and Metro are all part of Translink.

Buying tickets

You have to buy tickets to travel before you board the train, unless there is no way to buy them at the station of departure, or there is a notice saying you can buy tickets on the train.

Poor service

The Consumer Rights Act states that train operators must provide their passenger services with reasonable care and skill.

Train operators who provide a poor service are liable to pay compensation under the Act. This includes:

  • train journeys that are cancelled or delayed (including delays that are less than the time allowed in the national rail conditions of travel or other rail compensation schemes) or overcrowded; or
  • services like wifi that have been promised, but not provided.

The compensation claimable includes the cost of the journey and other losses that you may have incurred due to poor service, such as having to pay more for the same journey using another form of transport. You will need to prove your loss and that you kept resulting costs to a minimum. The train operator cannot exclude or limit the amount you can recover to less than the ticket price.

Cancellations and delays

You may be able to receive a refund or compensation if the delay or cancellation is within the train company's control. This will usually be claimed using your rights under the National Rail Conditions of Travel, but you could also claim under the Consumer Rights Act.

Cancelled trains

If your train is cancelled, you can return the unused paper ticket at that time to any ticket office or to the train operator and claim a full refund.

To get a refund for an electronic ticket (such as Oyster or on mobile telephones), check how to proceed from where the ticket was bought.

If you're left stranded at a station, the train company should help you by providing alternative transport to your destination or a convenient station, or overnight accommodation. Ask a member of staff at the station for information.

Delays – England, Wales and Scotland

If your train is delayed, and you decide not to travel, you can get a full refund on the price of your ticket.

You can return the unused paper ticket at that time to any ticket office or to the train operator and claim a full refund. To get a refund for an electronic ticket (such as Oyster or on mobile telephones), check how to proceed from where the ticket was bought.

If your train is delayed and you still decide to travel, then under each train company's Passenger Charter you'll be entitled to a refund based on the length of time you've been delayed and which train company you bought the ticket from. Compensation is usually paid for the affected part of the journey, i.e. based on the cost of a single, as opposed to a return journey. It must be paid using the same method that you paid for the ticket, unless you agree to an alternative.

Season ticket holders aren't usually entitled to compensation for individual delays under a company's Passenger Charter, but compensation is usually paid on the basis of the relevant train operator's performance targets for the period that the season ticket was held. Passengers will usually receive their compensation when they renew the season ticket. You could, however, be paid compensation under the Consumer Rights Act for poor service.

Compensation for financial losses incurred because of a delay, such as a missed airline flight, may be claimed under the Consumer Rights Act.

Transport watchdog London TravelWatch has a list of the refunds and compensation available for different service providers. Alternatively, you need to contact the individual train company to find out what level of compensation they offer to delayed passengers.

Delays – Northern Ireland

Translink has its own Passenger Charter (PDF), which sets out the commitments it makes to customers. These include the level of compensation that you may be able to get if a train is delayed or cancelled or if luggage is lost or damaged.

Luggage

You're responsible for your luggage. Train companies aren't normally responsible for compensation for lost or damaged luggage, unless it was caused by the neglect of the company or its staff. See the National Rail Conditions of Travel for details of the current maximum amount you may be able to receive if the train company loses or damages your luggage.

Further advice

England and Wales

Complaints about a rail operator should first be made to the relevant rail operating company. If it isn't dealt with satisfactorily, the complaint can be referred to Transport Focus.

Visit Transport Focus for more information.

Northern Ireland

If you have a complaint about a rail operator in Northern Ireland, you should first complain to the relevant rail operating company. If you're not happy with how your complaint is dealt with, you can go to the Consumer Affairs Officer of the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, an independent body set up to give consumers a voice.

Visit the Consumer Council for more information.