Frequently asked questions

Who are we?

We are an independent, not-for-profit organisation approved by the Chartered Institute of Trading Standards and full members of the Ombudsman Association.

We offer a free and expert service to investigate unresolved complaints about train companies and rail service providers who participate in the Ombudsman scheme. The Ombudsman calls these Service Providers. We also support the rail industry to raise standards and improve services for customers.

We are not consumer champions or industry representatives; we just aim to help and to deliver our service to the highest standard in a fair and balanced way.

What is an Ombudsman?

An Ombudsman is an independent body that investigates complaints in a fair and open way to try and reach a resolution without going to court.

Why might you need our help?

Even when Service Providers try their best, sometimes things go wrong, and you’re unhappy with the service you receive. If this is the case, you should always complain to the Service Provider first and give them a chance to reply and put things right.

However, you may wish to complain to us if:

  • they don’t reply to you;
  • you’re not happy with their reply;
  • you’re not happy with the way they have treated your complaint.

How can we help you?

If we agree that your complaint is something we can look into, we will investigate it fairly and independently.

We don’t take sides – we just look at the evidence we are given. We listen to both sides to find out if we can find a solution that you can both agree to. We try to encourage you to reach an agreement, but if this doesn’t happen, we will make a decision based on the evidence we receive.

If we are not able to take up your complaint, we will let you know why we can’t. We will also let you know where you can take it next – we may be able to transfer you to someone directly who may be able to help you further.

What are the powers of the Rail Ombudsman?

In the first instance, we hope to sort things out informally to the satisfaction of both sides.

Where that’s not possible, we are empowered to make decisions which are binding on Service Providers – this means that they have to comply with our decisions. If you accept our decision, the Service Provider has 20 working days to comply from the date of your acceptance, unless another timescale has been agreed with you, in which case, that will apply.

If the decision includes a refund, the Service Provider must complete the refund within 10 working days of your acceptance (if you have provided the necessary details so that a payment can be made).

We can also make recommendations to Service Providers to improve their service and we publish case studies and data which can help them to understand what they could do to raise standards.

What are the benefits of our service?

  • Confidence that we’ll treat your complaint in a fair and balanced way
  • Access to an independent and expert service which is free for you to use
  • A quick and simple process that saves you time, stress and money rather than going through the courts
  • Decisions that the Service Providers have to comply with
  • Helpful information and guides on our website
  • The option to take your complaint somewhere else if you don’t agree with our decision

What are our key principles?

We are full members of the Ombudsman Association; Our shared principles are independence, fairness, effectiveness, accountability, openness and transparency

How do we remain independent?

The Rail Ombudsman is neither a consumer champion or a trade body. We operate independently to ensure fairness in every case. Our Board of Directors is comprised of a majority of independent non-executive directors whose role is to ensure that our independence is preserved.

How are we funded?

Like all Ombudsman we are funded by the industry which we have jurisdiction over which means our services remain free for consumers.

Will we report publicly about the types and number of complaints that we see?

We will be reporting data about complaints from 2019.

 

Are we subject to Freedom of Information (FOI)?

We are not a public body so we are not subject to Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation, however we will publish information and data relating to complaints from 2019.

Who can complain to us?

You must be 16 years old or above. If you are under 16 years old, don’t worry – you can still raise a complaint if you have a representative, such as a parent, guardian or friend, who is 16 years old or above.

We can also accept complaints from groups of people travelling together who know each other, such as a family on a trip (this does not include class actions or campaigns).

When can you raise a complaint with us?

Before we can consider your complaint, you must try and resolve your complaint with the Service Provider first. You should get in touch with us if:

  • they haven’t resolved your complaint within 40 working days of them receiving your complaint; or
  • you’re unhappy with their final response which was contained in a letter /e-mail (sometimes called a “deadlock letter”).

Please note that unless there are exceptional circumstances, you must complain to us within 12 months of any final response from the Service Provider.

What is a deadlock letter?

A deadlock letter is a written final response from the Service Provider. This may be contained in a letter or an email, or perhaps even a text.

What sort of complaints do we cover?

You may come to us with any unresolved complaint about one of the participating service providers if it meets the Eligibility Checklist.

We will review your complaint and decide if it’s something we can look into ourselves, or if it’s something which needs to be dealt with by another organisation.

Our role is to look into the quality of service provided based on the commitments a Service Provider has made to you, and your consumer rights. We cannot look into complaints to do with industry policies or regulations.

We cover rail service complaints about:

  • train delays and cancellations;
  • customer service;
  • safety issues, such as overcrowding;
  • information given about journeys or engineering works;
  • availability and access to station facilities including toilets, lifts, escalators, waiting rooms, parking, cycle storage, announcements, ticket sales, and lost property;
  • the quality of services available on a train including toilets, food and drink, heating, air-conditioning, information, announcements, wi-fi, priority bookings, and reserved seats;
  • passenger assistance, facilities for customers with disabilities, and discrimination or issues arising under the Equality Act 2010;
  • Fare changes or fare setting;
  • Timetabling;
  • Routing changes.

If we believe your complaint is not something we can look into – we will explain clearly why.  We will also, where possible, suggest alternative options available or transfer your complaint to another organisation that may be able to help you further such as Transport Focus or London TravelWatch – the independent consumer watchdogs for the rail industry.  They will independently review your complaint and where appropriate, follow things up on your behalf.

What sort of complaints do we not cover?

You may come to us with any unresolved complaint about one of the participating service providers if it meets the Eligibility Checklist.

We will review your complaint and decide if it’s something we can look into ourselves, or if it’s something which needs to be dealt with by another organisation.

  • public policy on transport, privatisation or how the industry is run;
  • strike action;
  • how a railway line affects your home;
  • appeal of penalty fares or parking fines;
  • complaints relating to the outcome of staff disciplinary action;
  • complaints that have already been dealt with or which are being investigated by another organisation such as the courts;
  • issues which are outside the control of the Service Provider;
  • where you have already accepted a decision or offer made by the Service Provider;
  • where you are claiming business losses;
  • where you are claiming more than £2500 in compensation; or
  • where it is about an event which took place before the Rail Ombudsman service was established.

If we believe your complaint is not something we can look into – we will explain clearly why.  We will also, where possible, suggest alternative options available or transfer your complaint to another organisation that may be able to help you further such as Transport Focus or London TravelWatch – the independent consumer watchdogs for the rail industry.  They will independently review your complaint and where appropriate, follow things up on your behalf.

Which countries are covered by our service?

We cover rail journeys in England, Wales and Scotland.

In what language(s) is our service available?

Our service is available in English and Welsh. If English or Welsh is not your first language, we will try and make adjustments to help you use our service.

How can you make a complaint?

The quickest way to submit a complaint to us is to fill in our online form.

If you prefer, you can download a paper form on our website or simply ask us to post one to you. Once you have filled it in, you can send your paper form back to us by email at info@railombudsman.org or post it to us at FREEPOST – RAIL OMBUDSMAN.

How is our service accessible?

We want to make sure that our service is simple and easy to use, whatever your needs. If you do have any specific needs or preferences, please let us know and we will make adjustments where we can. You can contact us by telephone, textphone, email, online chat or twitter (Contact us).

Information about our service is available in:

 large print;
 Braille;
 easy-read; and
 audio

We can also let you know how to complain to us if you need translation services or British Sign Language. Just ask.

Can someone help you make your complaint?

Of course. If you would like some help to make your complaint, you can arrange for someone to assist you, for example, a family member, a friend or other representative. As long as your representative is over 16 years old and has agreed to help, we are happy for you to take whatever reasonable steps you need to help you make your best case to us.

You don’t need to appoint a lawyer or advisor to make a complaint to us. However, if you wish to, then of course, you can do.

What happens after you have made a complaint?

Once we receive your complaint we will give you a reference number. This will look something like R12355.

Please keep this reference number safe and remember to use it each time you contact us. This will help us find your details more quickly. If you lose your reference number or don’t have it to hand – don’t worry, we should still be able to find your complaint on our system.

To start, we will work out if your complaint is something we can look into. If we can take it further, we will continue to investigate to try to resolve your complaint. An individual Ombudsman will be dealing with your case and will get in touch to introduce themselves and let you know what the next steps are.

What happens if we cannot take your complaint further?

If we cannot take up your complaint, we will let you know why we can’t. We will also, where possible, suggest alternative options available or transfer your complaint to another organisation that may be able to help you further. For example, this might be one of the industry’s watchdogs – such as Transport Focus or London TravelWatch. If we do this, we will aim to transfer your complaint within a week. Once transferred, we will close your case.

How will you know what is happening with your complaint?

We will keep you posted on how things are going. However, you can log in to track the progress of your complaint from beginning to end. If you like, we can send you automated updates via SMS text and email as your complaint progresses.

What if you don’t want to take your complaint any further?

You don’t have to see a complaint through if you don’t want to. If you decide you don’t want to take it any further, no problem, just let us know and we’ll close the case.

How will we investigate your complaint?

If we can take your complaint further, one of our Ombudsmen will contact you to introduce themselves and explain what they will do.

Our job then is to collect information and evidence. We will contact the Service Provider and ask them to respond to your complaint – giving their side of the story. We expect them to do this within 10 working days.

We will then weigh up the evidence provided, taking into consideration the rights and duties set out in law and what is fair, reasonable and practical. We may need more information either from you or the Service Provider or both of you; and we’ll ask for that.

We aim to keep you regularly updated on how things are going. If there are delays – we will let you know (for example, some information is proving difficult to get, or a person we need to speak to is on leave or off sick).

The outcome of our investigation will depend on the evidence and information that has been provided. To allow us to fully investigate your complaint, we ask that you provide evidence to support your case.

What might we ask you for?

We will ask you to explain to us, in your words, what happened, and what you would like the Service Provider to do about it.

Depending on your complaint, we might also ask you to include things such as:

  • copies of correspondence (letters, emails, texts) about the complaint (including if you have had a “deadlock” letter from the Service Provider saying they are not taking it any further);
  • proof that you bought a ticket;
  • proof that you booked a service in advance: seat reservation, assistance at a station and so on;
  • any relevant receipts;
  • dates and times of travel;
  • offers or replies received from the Service Provider;
  • alternative routes or actions that you took to avoid extra costs or delays to your journey;
  • photographs; and
  • screenshots.

What might we ask the Service Provider for?

We will ask the Service Provider to explain their understanding of your complaint, whether they agree that they are at fault and what they might have done or plan to do to put things right. To back this up, depending on the complaint, we might ask them for things such as:

  • their Passenger’s Charter;
  • proof of action they have taken;
  • any offers already made to resolve the complaint;
  • statements from staff;
  • data collected from automated ticket gates or smartcard systems; and
  • proof that a service was booked: seat reservation, assistance at a station.

How will we try to resolve your complaint?

Stage 1: Mediation – The first stage of our process is mediation which means that we will try and encourage you and the Service Provider to reach an agreement. We will review the evidence we’ve been given, and we will be in touch with you (this might be by phone, email or letter) and the Service Provider to see if we can agree a way to settle the complaint.

Stage 2: Adjudication – If you and the Service Provider cannot reach an agreement, we will move to the second stage which is called adjudication. This means that an Ombudsman will make an independent decision on the case based on the evidence and information provided. This decision is binding on the Service Provider however, it is not binding on you as the customer.

As we are independent, our decision may be different to what you were hoping for or to what may have been previously offered by the Service Provider. We treat each case fairly on the evidence provided and we’ll let you know our decision in writing.

How long will this take?

Naturally, we want to sort things out as quickly as possible. In many cases, the sooner you and the Service Provider send the information and evidence needed, the better. The amount of time it takes also depends on how complex your complaint is and whether mediation or adjudication are needed. However, we aim to complete all cases within 40 working days – although most shouldn’t take this long. We will keep you posted on how things are going.

What are the possible outcomes?

The outcome will depend on the case and might be agreed by you and the Service Provider at mediation or decided by the Ombudsman at adjudication. The case outcome may include a refund or discount. We may ask that the Service Provider give an explanation or apology or a gesture of goodwill which could be complimentary travel or a gift.

What if you agree with our decision?

If you agree with our decision, you have 20 working days to accept it, otherwise it will lapse. If you do accept our decision, this will be binding on the Service Provider.

Are our decisions legally binding?

Yes, our decisions are binding on Service Providers if the decision is accepted by you – this means that they have to comply with our decision. However, our decisions are not binding on you as the customer and you do not have to accept if you do not wish to.

Please note, that for a decision to be binding on the Service Provider, you must accept the decision within 20 working days from the date that the decision was notified to you.

 

 

 

How long does the Service Provider have to comply with our decisions?

The Service Provider has 20 working days to comply with our decisions from the date of your acceptance, unless another timescale has been agreed with you, in which case, that will apply. If the decision includes a refund, the Service Provider must complete the refund within 10 working days of your acceptance (if you have provided the necessary details so that a payment can be made).

What if you don’t hear back from the Service Provider after you have accepted our decision?

The Rail Ombudsman will be able to follow this up after the Service Provider has had a reasonable opportunity to arrange this with you. Please allow 20 working days for the Service Provider to process your settlement (or 10 working days if you are awaiting a refund). If you do not hear from them or have not received your settlement after this period, please e-mail: aftercare@railombudsman.org.

What if you prefer the Service Provider’s previous offer to the Ombudsman’s decision?

If the Ombudsman’s decision is different to what was previously offered by the Service Provider, you may not be able to rely on the previous offer, which may be withdrawn.

What if you don’t agree with our decision?

We always look to be fair and reasonable. However, you might disagree with us. You are fully entitled to do that. However, once a decision has been made the case is closed. We won’t be able to help you further, but we can advise you what else you can do: for example, taking legal action through the courts.

What if you are not happy about how we have handled your complaint?

If you are unhappy with the way we have treated you or your complaint, please let us know. For information on how to make a complaint about our service, please click here.

How do we use your data?

For information on how we use your data, please click here.

How can you contact us?

If there is anything else you would like to know, we are here to help. Please click here to find out how to get in touch.

Are we an extension of the complaint department of Service Providers such as train operating companies?

No. As an Ombudsman we are a separate organisation from Service Providers. Each Service Provider has their own complaint handling procedure which should be followed when a complaint is raised. If you have a complaint, you should engage with the Service Provider to try and resolve your complaint with them directly – we would not be involved at this stage.

We can step in if your complaint remains unresolved after you have followed the Service Provider’s complaint handling procedure. We can only get involved after 40 working days have passed since you complained to the Service Provider or if you have received a final response which you are not happy with. We operate independently to reach a fair outcome and each case is assessed on an individual basis.

To find out more about your Service Provider’s complaint handling procedure, click here.