Passengers rail against the wrong sort of refund

Who said we are entering a new era of train travel? Over the past week good old-fashioned chaos has returned for commuters in London and the South-east as a dispute over working hours between drivers and Connex South Central, the railway company, caused widespread cancellations and delays. And just to add insult to injury, Connex last week insisted that it will not be giving refunds to customers messed about by the dispute, on the basis that the company has still been running a service (of sorts) and the problems have been caused by industrial action.

If a passenger is delayed for any other reason than industrial action, passengers are entitled to a better deal. In Connex's case passengers can apply for compensation of 20 per cent of the delayed journey (10 per cent of the return fare) for delays of one hour or more, albeit in the form of vouchers for future travel.

The minimum refund the new privatised train operators must give is 10 per cent of the fare. But even for an Intercity return, this might be as little as a few pounds. However, some companies are more generous. Midland Main Line, whose services include Sheffield to London, offers a full refund if a train is delayed by an hour or more. A spokesman says: "When you ask around for the name of a good company, people say Marks & Spencer. It's no quibble: if you take something back, you get your money back. We would like to get to that level, and exceed people's expectations." At the moment, however, its refunds, like pretty much all of the new rail operators, are still voucher-based.

The Gatwick Express gives a 100 per cent refund for trains delayed by more than an hour, Scotrail will give 50 per cent, while Central Trains will give 50 per cent after half an hour.

Rail companies also vary in how easy they make it for passengers to claim. Some provide pre-paid forms on the trains themselves; others rely on passengers finding someone with a claim form at their destination.

London Underground, by comparison, claims to offer full refunds for delays of 15 minutes or more. In theory claim forms should be available at ticket offices. However, says London Underground, if someone writes in and says he or she had to catch a taxi because they were delayed on the tube, only the cost of the fare will be refunded. And with strikes, only season-ticket holders are entitled to refunds. National Express, the coach operator, has no compensation scheme for delays but will look at each case on its merits.

The Central Rail Users' Committee (CRUC), which represents passengers, welcomes the train company refund deals as improvements on the old-style British Rail days. ATOC, the trade body for the new privatisation-era companies, notes: "The publicly-owned railways never really came to terms with customer service".

But, says CRUC spokesman Philip Wilkes, there is one improvement still to be made: paying compensation in cash, not rail vouchers. "We have always questioned why you should be offered more of an unsatisfactory product to compensate for an unsatisfactory product," he says. "It should be made in cash."

But while at least some rail companies are waking up to the public relations value of offering compensation for delays, customers who want to change tickets because their plans have changed may well encounter a further myriad of complications. This has been fuelled by an explosion in special or discounted fares, and a move towards airline-style, pre-booked tickets.

Standard "walk-on" tickets can be changed, but the National Conditions of Carriage allows operators to make a "reasonable administrative charge". Typically, this is pounds 5, which is the charge on Great Western or Great North Eastern Railways. On National Express coaches, by contrast, the charge is just pounds 1.25. However, with Apex fares, which need to be booked in advance for a specific train, there may be no refunds at all if you need to change your journey, or cannot travel.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Application Support Analyst / 1st Line Support

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Application Support Analyst / 1st L...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer / Web Developer

£45K - £55K (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a full stack .NET D...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence