More than 5.1m people who were unable to use their railcards for months due to the coronavirus pandemic will not be entitled to refunds, the government has decided.
In March, passengers were told to avoid non-essential rail travel wherever possible in a bid to free up services for essential workers.
Across England and Scotland, these measures remained in place until July, while in Wales the policy was only relaxed halfway through August.
As a result, passengers were not able to make use of the travel passes, which cost most people £30 per year and cut the cost of rail journeys by a third.
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, which manages the railcard scheme, said that concerns over the potential cost of refunding more than £5m people had meant the government had decided against doing so.
“After careful consideration, the government has confirmed to us that Railcards will remain non-refundable and will not be extended. We understand that this decision may not be the news our customers had been hoping for.
“Refunding or extending railcards for over 5.1m customers would come at a significant cost to the taxpayer at a time when the focus must be on maintaining rail services to support the country’s recovery from the pandemic.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government has spent billions in propping up the country’s railways as passenger demand collapsed.
By the end of June alone, total payments to all franchises – including those already in public ownership – was £2.3bn.
Last month officials took the decision to extend the emergency measures agreements, which in effect took rail franchises back into national ownership, for an additional 18 months.
The move is a precursor to a wider reform of the rail network which will see the current franchise model scrapped for good.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We took immediate action at the outbreak of the pandemic to support the rail industry, keeping the services people depend on running, protecting jobs, and delivering refunds on all advance fares, as well as removing charges for cancellations.
“With fares revenue having fallen to less than five per cent of pre-Covid levels, we must ensure we are fair to taxpayers and focus investment on maintaining services, to enable social distancing and support our economic recovery.”