Train firms will tweak their terms to avoid misleading customers about compensation rights, Which? said today.
The consumer group said the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has worked with the rail industry to change operators' terms and conditions to remove "the misleading claim that passengers are not entitled to claim for consequential losses". That refers to reasonable additional losses beyond the cost of a ticket, like hotel bookings or a taxi fare, when services are disrupted.
While the Consumer Rights Act came into force in the rail industry in October 2016, Which? said the National Rail Conditions of Travel and rail firms failed to update their terms to reflect this. These said passengers were entitled to claim for additional losses when an operator has failed to provide the service with reasonable care and skill, with Which? saying train firms have been giving blanket advice wrongly.
Changes will now be published Sunday 11 March to ensure passengers are not confused over their ability to claim compensation and their entitlement to seek consequential losses under common law.
Last year, Which? raised concerns that the industry had been failing to make passengers aware about their rights to claim for such losses, writing to train firms and then working with the ORR.
Alex Hayman, Which? managing director of public markets, said:
For over a year train companies have been misleading passengers about their rights to claim for out-of-pocket expenses when they have failed to deliver a good service.
Train companies can now no longer hide behind misleading terms to avoid paying passengers.
They need to go further and proactively inform passengers about their compensation rights. If they fail to uphold these rights, they should be held to account by the government and the regulator.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: "The more passengers are aware of – and exercise – their rights, the better. We know that many of them don’t claim through existing schemes due to lack of awareness or clunky systems."
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said:
Train companies are sorry whenever journeys are disrupted and we have been happy to work with the government and the regulator to make clearer our customers’ rights. Nevertheless, it is important for our customers to understand that it is very unlikely they will be entitled to compensation for additional losses.
"Compensation is becoming increasingly generous and easy to claim, which is why payments have increased fivefold in five years to £74m," they added. "As part of our plan for a changing and improving railway, train companies have committed to creating a new independent railway ombudsman to rule on complaints and build confidence in our services."
Earlier this week, the transport secretary wrote to the RDG, to say they needed to improve communication with customers after last week's weather troubles.
Chris Grayling thanked staff for working "tirelessly to recover services across the network, despite the difficult circumstances". But said further action was needed to improve communication during disruption and provide passengers with more information.