Train companies are making it a struggle for passengers to get compensation by demanding up to 24 separate pieces of information during the claim process, according to new research from Which?.
The consumer champion looked at the online claims forms of 24 operators and found they required between 10 and 24 pieces of information from passengers seeking compensation for delayed or cancelled services – creating an unfair and fragmented system that treats passengers differently depending on which service they use.
Which? has been calling for the rail compensation system to be simplified by the introduction of automatic compensation, given passengers claim for only a third (34%) of journeys where money is owed for delays and cancellations. According to Which?’s annual rail passenger survey, a third (32%) of journeys weren’t claimed for because it was too much effort and for one in seven (15%) it was because it would be too difficult or time consuming.
The worst offenders for having complicated and lengthy claims processes were Greater Anglia, London Northwestern, ScotRail, Transport for Wales and West Midlands Trains – with each demanding 24 pieces of information.
But even the best-performing companies – Chiltern Railways and Heathrow Express – required passengers to provide 10 different pieces of information before passengers can submit a claim when services are delayed or cancelled.
When trying to claim, Which? found passengers were often asked for a raft of seemingly irrelevant details – putting up potentially unnecessary barriers to receiving the compensation they are owed.
The biggest variation between train companies was in the amount of information passengers were asked for about the type of ticket they travelled with.
In the analysis the five worst train companies each required passengers to submit 13 different pieces of information about their ticket in this part of the form, such as whether it was a paper ticket, the cost, class, how the ticket was paid for, whether it was at peak time and the dates for which the ticket was valid.
Yet most of this information could be found clearly displayed on a photo of the paper ticket – which 23 out of 24 train companies require to be uploaded as proof of purchase.
As many as 14 out of 24 train companies also asked passengers to dig out even more detailed ticket information, such as the ticket reference number. In contrast the best performer in this section, Chiltern Railways, only required two pieces of information about a ticket from passengers – the ticket type and proof of purchase.
Passengers were also asked a number of questions about the journey they took. There was a difference of four pieces of information between the companies asking for the fewest details – Heathrow Express with three and Chiltern Railways with four – and the companies requiring the most – Great Northern, Southern and Thameslink with seven.
Six of the train companies asked people to provide the ‘from and to’ journey details more than once within the same form, forcing them to input the journey they took twice.
Half of train companies also asked passengers why they were making a claim or the reason for the delay – the latter being information the train company is better placed to answer and should already hold.
All train companies asked for four pieces of personal information with the exception of Merseyrail which also asked passengers for their date of birth.
When Which? asked these train companies why they asked for this level of detail – responses included deterring fraudulent claims, that it was needed for paper tickets without reservations, the prominence of third party retailers and the defence that customers could set up an online account and store their personal details to make claims easier second time round.
However some train companies have already shown that these complex compensation schemes can be avoided completely.
Several train companies – including C2C, Northern, South Western Railway and Virgin Trains – already offer automatic compensation to customers with certain tickets meaning passengers are automatically refunded without any cumbersome form-filling.
Which? believes it is deeply concerning that rail passengers have to navigate a compensation maze, which may be deterring some people from claiming the money they are entitled to.
To simplify the compensation process and ensure passengers get what they are owed, Which? is calling for the government’s rail review to ensure that fully automatic compensation for delays and cancellations is introduced across the network as soon as possible.
Which? is concerned the government’s move towards so called ‘one-click’ compensation will, in reality, also involve barriers for passengers trying to claim compensation and will leave consumers waiting too long for it to come into effect. Fully automatic compensation should be implemented instead – train companies don’t need to wait for the government to act and could offer it to their passengers without delay.
Alex Hayman, Which? Managing Director of Public Markets, said:
“It’s clear this fragmented and confusing compensation system leads to people losing out on a lot of money when they have already suffered enough from unacceptable levels of delays and cancellations.
“The technology exists to deliver compensation automatically, but the industry continues to drag its heels, while benefiting from a system that deters passengers from claiming the money they are owed.
“Passengers want to see swift changes, so the government’s rail review must prove it is serious about putting them first by ensuring that automatic compensation is introduced across the network.”
Sarah Jones, 41, a Greater Anglia commuter said:
“The online delay repay form is ridiculously lengthy and repetitive. You are asked to repeat a lot of the same information and to answer unnecessary questions which requires a lot of scrolling through options to complete it. I can only assume it was purposely designed that way to put people off taking the time to bother filling it in.”
Notes to editors
Number of pieces of information collected by each train company on ticket, journey and personal information for delay repay form:
- Most train companies are signed up to delay repay schemes – where passengers can claim compensation for delays of 15 minutes or more under some providers and 30 minutes or more under others. While a handful of other companies haven’t signed up to delay repay and operate ‘traditional’ schemes.
- For passengers with smart tickets or ones bought on company apps, with C2C, Northern, South Western Railway and Virgin Trains – the train company has your details and can automatically refund you. While the Govia Thameslink Railway train companies offer auto-notify schemes where you are sent an email link to get compensation.
- During February and March 2019 Which? reviewed the online delay repay process for 24 different train operating companies. It looked at how many pieces of information (e.g. name, address) a consumer was required to submit in order to make a delay repay claim. To ensure consistency it used the example of a consumer who had purchased a paper ticket (not an online ticket), who made a direct journey (no connections) and who was using the website delay repay form (not a smartphone app).
- Greater Anglia and Great Western Railway both introduced new delay repay 15 schemes on 1 April 2019 – after Which?’s initial research was conducted. Both companies asked for the same number of pieces of information with these new schemes in place.
- Which? research found passengers claimed for only a third (34%) of journeys where money was owed for delays and cancellations, despite punctuality having plummeted in the last year. According to Which?’s annual rail passenger survey, a third (32%) of journeys weren’t claimed for because it was too much effort and one in seven (15%) weren’t claimed for because it would be too difficult or time consuming. For more than a third (36%) of journeys it wasn’t apparent how or where to claim in the first place, while for a third (33%) of claimed for journeys the process was found difficult by passengers. In October 2018, 10,000 members of the UK general public completed a Which? online survey about their experiences of travelling with UK train operators. Respondents were able to comment on more than one train operating company so Which? was able to report on 3,994 commuter experiences and 11,469 leisure experiences.
- The Rail Delivery Group recently announced nine in ten rail journeys are expected to be available as smart tickets – making the rollout of automatic compensation much easier.
- One-click compensation is due to come in at the end of current franchise contracts so the change could come in as late as 2025 for some rail passengers.
- Which? has not included TfL Rail, London Overground or the Caledonian Sleeper in its analysis as they used a different process. It has also not included the Stansted Express because it links to the Greater Anglia delay repay form (which is included in the findings).