These cases demonstrate how consumers rely on their ticket and booking confirmation as a key source of information. Also, that consumers will have expectations of specific services when making plans and that a change to timetables is not, in our experience, usually expected when booking. Whilst information is contained within the National Rail Conditions of Travel highlighting that timetables may change at short notice; the Rail Ombudsman notes a lack of awareness from a consumer perspective.
Please read in conjunction with advice below.
Consumer A – Dispute relating to timetable affected by industrial action
Consumer A complained that they had rearranged their travel and curtailed their holiday by a day due to industrial action, which meant no services were running on their intended travel date. They sought reimbursement of an unused hotel stay from the rail company with whom they were due to travel. Consumer A asserted there was no warning of industrial action on their booking confirmation when the tickets were purchased.
At adjudication, it was found by the Rail Ombudsman that, on balance the evidence showed there was discoverable information about industrial action prior to Consumer A’s journey, and this was provided in line with the National Rail Conditions of Travel. Furthermore, the Consumer held a flexible ticket, and the timetable was amended in advance of travel, an awareness of which was evidenced by the Consumer’s decision to travel a day earlier.
Consumer B – Dispute relating to provision of information about possible strike action
Consumer B purchased a ticket to travel when strike action was underway on some dates, but not confirmed on the selected date of travel. When complaining, the Consumer referenced their booking confirmation stating that it gave them the impression that there was no foreseeable issue with travelling on that day, and that they expected direct contact from the Rail Service Provider (RSP) if the services could not be provided. The Consumer questioned why no warning was presented on the confirmation, given the ongoing strike action.
The RSP responded that this information was available when the consumer made the purchase but acknowledged it would not necessarily be on the booking confirmation. The RSP noted a Consumer’s duty to check before travel, and that Consumers can sign up to travel alerts via the RSP website, with service change information available also through a variety of other sources.
The adjudication noted that the RSP’s Passenger Charter did advise that timetables can change up to 24 hours before travel, and that people should check before travel. A review of information online and the RSP booking process was undertaken, which was found to contain alerts about disruption. Furthermore, strikes were found to be widely advertised and the Rail Ombudsman determined that the information available enabled the Consumer to make an informed decision when buying their ticket. In addition to this, the Consumer’s account confirmed that they had seen information whilst travelling and this advised of amended timetables, which is why they rearranged their travel.
Consumer C – Dispute relating to amended timetables whilst abroad
Consumer C booked their travel months in advance, and before strikes were planned. The amended timetable was put in place whilst Consumer C was abroad and they tried to get back earlier but were unable to do so. Consumer C contacted the RSP a few days before they were due to travel to ask what to do but did not receive a response before their departure date. Therefore, they booked an overnight hotel and purchased new tickets for travel the following day. The ticket retailer refunded the original tickets, but the RSP declined the Consumer’s claim for hotel and meal costs of approx. £250.00.
The Rail Ombudsman found that the amended timetable was in place, in line with the terms of the National Rail Conditions of Travel. Consumer C received no response from the RSP until after the date of travel, but due to the date of contact, the RSP was not outside of their published timescales to respond. Furthermore, the RSP had not provided any expectation that the costs would be refunded. There was no evidence to enable the Rail Ombudsman to uphold the claim.
Consumer D – Dispute relating to rail replacement journey changes
Consumer D travelled on a multi-leg journey and as planned boarded a rail replacement bus for the last leg of the journey. However, the bus terminated before their station and no buses or trains were available to complete the journey, so the Consumer paid £5 to complete the journey. The Consumer claimed Delay Repay and contacted the RSP to claim the bus fare. This was rejected by the RSP who advised that the Consumer had already been compensated fully via Delay Repay.
This case was settled at Mediation. The RSP was unable to evidence that the replacement service was due to terminate early, nor that there were cost free alternatives to complete the journey. The RSP offered £5 and this was accepted by Consumer D.
Consumer E – Dispute relating to advance ticket journey removed from timetable
Consumer E’s complaint was about advance tickets sold, which included a journey plan of services that were no longer on the timetable on the date of travel. The Consumer had relied on those particular services, and also received confirmation by email of the journey on the day before. They therefore considered it a last minute change when partway through the journey they had to use a replacement bus service. On the return journey the Consumer’s service was not listed on departure boards, so they travelled on a service 15 minutes later, but lost their reservations. They asserted that there had been no prior warning of service changes. The payment of Delay Repay was declined by the RSP as no delays were found against the amended timetable.
The parties remained in dispute as to whether the journey provided was in line with the timetable in place that day.
The Rail Ombudsman made no award at adjudication, because, on balance, the evidence supported that the service ran in line with the amended timetable in place.
In this case, the evidence provided of running times matched the RSP’s account, but the evidence was not clear enough for the Consumer to accept it without this being explained within the adjudication. The Rail Ombudsman made a recommendation to industry to consider if industry changes to information displays would be appropriate to better evidence timetable amendments after the event.
Recommendations to the industry
In these cases and similar scenarios, the Rail Ombudsman recommended that the rail industry considers how to increase check before travel signposting within the purchase process and booking confirmations to reduce the chance for confusion. Information and the way in which it is presented is a key factor in all aspects of consumer contracts. Ensuring that consumers are aware of their obligations and that these are prominent in any published information will help consumers understand what they need to do and where to go for information if the timetable is amended. This helps reduce stress and inconvenience for consumers and, correspondingly, will reduce their need to raise after-care issues and disputes. Such a reduction would be of benefit to both consumers and the industry.
Guidance for consumers
The National Rail Conditions of Travel form the terms of your rail ticket. This outlines that timetables may be amended in advance, and at short notice. Your compensation rights will differ, depending on whether an amended timetable is in place or the change was made that day. The reality is that delays can happen within any form of travel and if the RSP does provide alternative routes, these may take longer, but it is unlikely that you will be offered compensation if, for example, you unilaterally decide to travel via taxi and there was an alternative in place.
The National Rail Conditions of Travel also confirm that delay compensation is paid against the “Published timetable of the Day”, which can be amended up to 10 pm the day before travel. This means that if you experienced a delay on the amended timetable, you would be able to claim Delay Repay, but not otherwise. Therefore, compensation cannot be claimed against what the timetable was previously, even if you held a ticket for a specific journey time. The RSP will, however, consider every claim.
An amended timetable will not necessarily be published separately. If the change is short notice, it is more likely to be shown within journey planners on National Rail Enquiries. Consumers are urged to check before travel up until the day of departure to ensure awareness of any changes, and to contact the RSP for information about alternatives. If you can make a note of any advice given or ask train staff to endorse your ticket in some way, to make it clearer if costs have been agreed for which you want to make a claim later.