Southern rail forced to fork out more hefty payouts as passengers suffer disruption, automatic refunds set to begin from next year

 
Oliver Gill
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Beleaguered Southern Rail Users Face More Misery As Five Day Strike Begins
Southern Rail commuters have suffered a series of delays, cancellations and strikes this year (Source: Getty)

​Southern Rail has been forced to overhaul the way it compensates passengers affected by poor services, following meagre payouts in the past and as claims for delayed journeys soar on the back of this summer’s industrial action.

The busy commuter service has been beset by delays, cancellations and strikes in a long-running dispute over the role of guards. A Southern Rail spokesman said: “The number of delay-repay claims has quadrupled in May, June and July.”

Southern’s customers are entitled to apply for compensation for delays to their journeys that are greater than 30 minutes but, in the past, few have done so.

Read more: Southern Rail strike travel disruption: Everything you need to know

City A.M. can reveal that Southern Rail has committed to automatically refund delayed commuters from 2017. “Next year – we’ll be introducing automatic refunds for people using our new smartcard,” said a Southern Rail spokesperson. “We have employed more people and introduced new systems to keep on top of passenger delay payments.”

The latest available information showed that Southern Rail paid out just £1.6m in compensation to rail customers for the year to March 2015. During the same time period it charged taxpayer-funded body Network Rail £28.6m for delays which it concluded were Network Rail’s fault.

The company has long been urged to make it easier for commuters hit by travel chaos to be compensated.

Read more: Southern discomfort: Train service's punctuality plunges to 70 per cent

The independent regulator that oversees Britain’s railways, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), concluded in a report earlier this year that a staggering 80 per cent of those entitled to reclaim money do not do so. The ORR suggested changing the process and making passengers more aware of their rights.

“We know that most of those apparently eligible for compensation for their delay did not claim. Too many passengers are put off due to lack of awareness or knowledge of how to claim”, said David Sidebottom ofpassenger watchdog Transport Focus.

“It is far too difficult for passengers to get a refund for rail delays, or even find out they are eligible,” added Alex Neill of Which.