This week passenger watchdog Transport Focus launched a campaign to persuade more people to claim the compensation for delays they are entitled to, as well as demanding that train operators make it easier for people to claim.
Depending on who you are travelling with, you can claim compensation for a delay of 15 minutes, or 30 minutes with some operators.
Transport Focus said that with only 35% of eligible passengers ‘bothering’ to claim, and those eligible for low payouts even less likely to do so, around £100m in compensation goes unclaimed every year, with rail firms paying out a total of £81m in 2017/18.
This £81m dwarfed by the more than half a billion they now rake in each year in compensation from Network Rail for disruption.
It also reflects the fact that, as Transport Network has highlighted, data from regulator the Office of Rail and Road shows that one in six claims are rejected. My own experience suggests that, despite profiting massively from the compensation game, rail firms are rejecting perfectly valid claims.
Without prompting from Transport Focus, I decided a while back that I would submit claims to my usual carrier, South Western Railway (SWR), wherever I was entitled, ie after a delay of 15 minutes, which is sadly far from uncommon.
My first attempt showed how much you have to persevere. It was initially rejected because I had inadvertently selected the wrong route from a plethora of options for what was quite a simple journey.
After I corrected this, it was rejected a second time, on the grounds that my ticket was not valid for the journey I claimed for. Given that it is a travelcard and my journey was within the area it covered, this was baffling.
Where a customer remains unhappy with the outcome of a claim after an appeal, SWR invites them to contact its customer services team, from whom I received the following reply:
‘I'm sorry your claim was rejected, it appears to be due to the agent not being able to confirm the price of your ticket due to it not being on our system. I have informed the management team regarding this as they should have found out your price by looking at past prices, to compensate you for the delay and the inconvenience I have raised a cheque for £4.43, please allow up to 28 days for this to arrive.’
It is this level of compensation, based in my case on the price of my season ticket, that Transport Focus identifies as leading to the low level of claims.
In my specific case, the problem was that my (paper) ticket was a replacement with no price shown. But there was a simple workaround, to the extent that the SWR agent could be, to borrow a phrase from Transport Focus, bothered.
Despite this claim eventually being resolved satisfactorily, my next claim was rejected on the same grounds. But this time SWR’s customer services people were less helpful.
‘I can confirm that your claim has been rejected because your season ticket does not show the original ticket price. In order to process your compensation, we would need to see a confirmation email or a receipt showing your season ticket price.’
Given that the same issue had been resolved previously, this is a classic case of someone confusing ‘can’t’ with ‘won’t’ or, to be more accurate, confusing ‘need’ with ‘are unreasonably insisting on’.
It is also a clear breach of the SWR Passenger’s Charter (sic), which promises ‘a simplified process offering compensation when it is due through delay repay’ and states: ‘You will need to show us your ticket receipt, collection receipt, booking reference email or any sales voucher when you make a claim. We will also accept a photograph or scan of the ticket or, for season ticket holders, the ticket number.’
I emailed SWR’s customer services about this twice but got no response. No wonder people don’t claim.
Before publishing this piece, I spoke to SWR’s press people. It transpired that a number of other complications led to my claim being rejected, including that I had bought it from another operator and that SWR was unable to work out when it was bought, despite it being an annual ticket with a clear and obvious expiry date.
In addition, some of the details SWR had required me to enter manually did not match the details on the ticket it required me to upload. This was partly because I had to enter a nominal £0.01 for the price as the system would not accept £0.00.
As Which? has recently highlighted, asking customers to provide information that is on the ticket that they request a scan or photo of is one of the ways that rail firms make it unnecessarily difficult to claim, even online.
I asked SWR why it asks claimants to provide information that is on the ticket, which creates not just work for the customer but the potential for anomaly when the details do not match. It acknowledged that this was a valid point, which it has promised to address, but explained that it is currently required because the system is automated.
This explanation suggests that rail firms are not asking for duplicate information to be difficult but to allow claims to be processed with as little human input – and cost – as possible.
Unsurprisingly, having taken the claim up with SWR's press team, its customer services team has since agreed to pay my claim.
Meanwhile SWR, which rejects slightly more claims than the national average, paid out £17.2m in compensation in the seven months of 2017/18 after it took over the franchise, and received a total of £53m from Network Rail over the same period.