Case Study -Covid safety / seating

The Issue

The Consumer’s complaint is regarding an alleged lack of seating on a service in 2021, during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

The Consumer complained to the RSP whilst travelling that they had to sit on the floor on a non-socially distanced service. The Consumer noted that they were unable to book seats on the service when booking.

The Consumer was seeking an explanation or apology and a full refund. They had rejected an offer from the RSP for a 50% refund because they did not believe it was sufficient for the risk in which they were placed.

The Response

The RSP explained that measures had been taken to enable social distancing, such as reduced seating capacity… a programmed reservation system to only allow seats a safe distance from each other and face coverings were communicated as, at that point in time, being mandatory. The RSP further explained that the British Transport Police enforce these policies rather than RSP staff.

What the Ombudsman did

The Rail Ombudsman assessed all evidence provided by both parties.

The Ombudsman noted the Regulator’s (Office of Rail and Road) guidance on Covid safety and overcrowding, which accepts that crowding can happen on trains due to the nature of the service, even in Covid restrictions. The Consumer reasserted their case that the RSP could have done more in the circumstances. They stated that their only other option of travel was a service which only offers pre-booked seats, and the RSP’s service was very limited.

As the RSP and the Consumer could not reach an agreement during mediation, the case went to an adjudication where the Rail Ombudsman assessed all evidence provided, along with the RSP’s Passenger Charter and the National Rail Conditions of Travel. The Ombudsman concluded that in line with these documents, the 50% offer was fair and reasonable since although the consumer travelled, they could neither book a seat nor find a seat on the service in question. The prevailing information at the time indicated that upon booking, the consumers reservation should have generated a ‘counted place’, which did not appear to have occurred. In addition, given the limited numbers of services operated by the RSP, there was little alternative open to the consumer but to join the service.

The Ombudsman also awarded a written apology, and Rail voucher for delayed complaint handling.

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