The passenger watchdog has called on railway staff to use more discretion ‘right from the start’ as long-awaited new rules come into force allowing passengers to challenge penalty fares through an independent committee.
New rules coming into force today (6 April) will offer a greater level of protection for rail passengers issued with a penalty fare, ‘where they make an honest mistake’, rail minister Jo Johnson has said.
To make an appeal visit the penalty services or appeal services websites.
The Department for Transport (DfT) said that ‘those with a genuine reason for not having a valid ticket’ will now be able to challenge a penalty with an independent committee, not connected to the rail companies.
In fact, while the new rules allow an appeal on a number of specific grounds, passengers can also argue that there are ‘compelling reasons’ why they should not pay the penalty.
Once an appeal is received, the clock will stop on the 21-day deadline for payment of a penalty fare, until the outcome is resolved.
The DfT said the process will also give greater consideration to the circumstances of how and why the penalty was issued, to ensure people are not unfairly penalised.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Rail users should make every effort to get the right ticket for their journey, but if you make an honest mistake, you should feel confident that the appeals system will recognise this and treat you fairly.'
Watchdog Transport Focus first made recommendations on the issue in a 2012 report Ticket to Ride and continued to press for change in an updated report in 2015.
Head of policy Mike Hewitson said: ‘This welcome safety net should help resolve the kind of cases we have been highlighting through our Ticket to Ride work, where passengers making an innocent mistake have been treated like fare-dodgers.
‘The key thing now will be for the rail industry to empower its front-line staff to use more discretion right from the start.’
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has published new guidance on the amended penalty fare regime
Jac Starr, RDG managing director of customer experience, said fare dodgers deprive the railway of about £200m a year.
A penalty fare can be issued where an individual travels without a valid ticket or is unable to produce a railcard on a discounted ticket, stays on the train beyond the destination they have paid for or travels in the wrong class.
Passengers receive a charge of either £20 or twice the full single fare from the station where they went on the train to the next station at which the train stops.