There is a real risk these changes will deter even more passengers from claiming (Source: Getty)
Yesterday changes were announced to the National Rail Conditions of Carriage – the rules governing rail travel in the UK. The idea was to make it easier for commuters to claw back refunds for delayed and cancelled trains.
To explain, let's start by looking at why the industry has brought in this change. In its survey on passenger compensation published last year,
the Office of Rail and Road, the industry regulator, said “not only does [using vouchers] appear to have a negative impact on consumers’ propensity to claim, our research also suggests that it has a negative effect on the amount of compensation that is ultimately converted by passengers against a ticket”.
In moving from vouchers to cash, the industry is trying to stop this double-whammy, but the changes do not go far enough.
Various news outlets have reported the changes as the "end of the line" for rail vouchers. Even the announcement says passengers now have the right "to receive compensation in money instead of rail travel vouchers". But things are not quite as rosy as they seem.
The problem is the way the train operators are implementing the change, which has been brought in by the industry rather than imposed by the regulator. Most operators will either require you to exchange vouchers for cash or ask you to send them emails with all the details. Neither option makes it easier to claim compensation - in fact it just makes an already complex and bureaucratic process even more onerous for passengers.
This morning we asked the worst performing operators how passengers can claim cash compensation, and here are their responses:
- Southern Rail will continue to send you rail vouchers which you then have to cash in - no change to its current policy
- First Great Western requires you to email details and proof of purchase and then will "likely" send you a cheque or bank transfer (it's unclear how a bank transfer will work without emailing them your account details)
- Greater Anglia also requires you to send an email to their customer services team
- South West Trains promised to publish details of new arrangements "when they are finalised" and "an implementation date has been set by Atoc [the Association of Train Operating Companies]."
There is a real risk these changes will deter even more passengers from claiming - the exact opposite of what the rail regulator is trying to achieve.
We believe the rail industry needs to move to a fully automated compensation process that completely eliminates rail vouchers and automatically credits your bank account, credit card or PayPal
account with minimal intervention from the passenger.
The ORR has welcomed the move as "good news for passengers". But if the rail industry is serious about improving compensation for passengers, the ORR must be much more prescriptive about how industry changes such as cash compensation are implemented by train operators.