Case Study Season Ticket Refunds in Covid-19: Provision of Information

The Issue

The Consumer complained on the 9th September 2020, that they had visited the station to get a refund of a season ticket, however they received considerably less than expected. The Consumer advised they had checked online in March 2020 and seen that refunds would be backdated to the 17th March 2020.

The Consumer’s season ticket was purchased for £1,831.60. The Consumer received a refund of £344.40 based on a surrender date of the 9th September 2020.

The Consumer expected the season ticket to be backdated to the 21st March 2020 and also advised the Ombudsman that they had delayed seeking the refund due to personal commitments. Reliance was made of the information viewed online, during March 2020; no further changes in policy had been communicated in the interim period, that the consumer was aware of.

The Consumer emailed on the 26th September 2020 and noted that they disagreed with the RSP that they had used the most efficient way of making the refund information available. The Consumer was seeking a refund backdated to the 21st March 2020.

The Response

The RSP advised that the change in refund policy on the 7th September 2020 was due to an amendment in Government guidance. The RSP apologised for not emailing the Consumer directly about changes in refund policy, advising that it was not considered the most efficient way of sharing the updates, noting that not all ticket holders can be contacted by email. The RSP advised that the full refund policy was provided on the RSP website and apologised if the Consumer was given the wrong impression about backdating, stating that the normal process calculates any refund from the day the ticket is returned.

The RSP advised that it had checked the accuracy of the refund and found that it had been calculated correctly in line with policy at the time the ticket was surrendered. The RSP made no further comments about policy or customer service. The Consumer did not accept the RSP’s position.

What the Ombudsman Did

The Ombudsman noted that the Consumer’s season ticket was originally purchased under the terms of the NRCoT and the RSP’s Passenger Charter at the time. Condition 40.3 of the NRCoT states:

Any refund to which you are entitled will be calculated from the date the Season Ticket is returned. The amount refunded will be based on the price paid for your Season Ticket less the cost of any Season Ticket(s) and additional Tickets required to cover one return journey for each weekday that your Season Ticket was actually held for, and an administration charge (not to exceed £10).

The RSP’s Passenger Charter This reflects the usual requirement to surrender a ticket for a refund. The Ombudsman therefore concluded that the RSP correctly applied policy in administering this refund.

The Consumer states that they viewed the RSP’s website in March 2020 and relied on the information provided, that a refund would be backdated to the 17th March 2020, regardless of when it was claimed. The Ombudsman noted that the RSP did not directly advise the Consumer that they could backdate a ticket even if it was left for months before they applied. The Ombudsman was bound to consider the claim in light of the policy in place at the time the Consumer applied for the refund and could not find that this had been incorrectly applied.

Industry Recommendation – Provision of Information

The Ombudsman considers that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light an issue regarding the information that the industry relies upon in terms of applicable policies and the way in which this is disseminated to the travelling public. Greater reliance on technology has a number of effects that need to be considered and we highlight the following:

– Data regarding season tickets/Apps used to plan journeys and purchase tickets need to be geared to improve the flow of information;

– The Rail Industry should also consider that information which is provided by the train operators to passengers is highly reliant on the internet during the Covid-19 Pandemic. This may detriment those consumers who are digitally excluded (by capability or lack of equipment)and  these exclusions must be considered in order to meet the challenges of providing information in accessible formats, when industry guidance is being updated/ provided.

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