Below are a series of case studies to demonstrate issues seen by the Rail Ombudsman relating to the facilities provided on trains.
Consumer A – seat reservations dispute
Consumer A was travelling with their family which included two young children. They had seat reservations and their service was full due to previous cancelations. They complained because they were unable to use their seat reservations and had to stand. They rejected the offer of a 50% refund because they were seeking a full refund.
The Rail Ombudsman adjudicated and found that the Consumer was entitled to a 50% refund under the Passenger Charter, as the seat reservations had not been honoured and no seating was available for over 30 minutes. A partial refund was awarded for loss of seat reservations but no additional award for the overcrowding issue was made because the fact that a service was crowded does not in itself mean there is a safety issue. The adjudication noted that it is broadly accepted that services can become crowded, due to the Turn Up & Go model which allows travel without prebooking. The rail industry’s regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, recognises that crowding can occur and its position statement on this issue was referenced within the decision.
A full refund was not awarded as the consumer was still able to make the journey, but with a reduction to the expected service. A price reduction was therefore considered appropriate and this was made in accordance with the promise contained within the RSP’s Passenger Charter. It was noted that this had been offered prior to escalation.
Consumer B – First class and seat reservation dispute
Consumer B held first class tickets but without a seat reservation. They sat in what they believed to be the appropriate train carriage based on the RSP’s website information and complained whilst on the outward journey about no catering, noting that their ticket was checked whilst travelling but no catering service received. The Consumer noticed, on their return journey, that they were in Standard Premium.
The Rail Ombudsman’s adjudication found that the Consumer had reasonably relied on the website information and information on the train and by sitting in Standard Premium, and accordingly received a reduced service. This decision acknowledged that when checking the ticket, there was the opportunity to advise, that was potentially missed.
A partial refund was awarded to reflect the difference in price of standard against first class.
The Rail Ombudsman recommended that the RSP considers how to better manage the expectations within first-class coaches, perhaps through increased train signage, and that it records any announcements made to this effect onboard. Further, it is recommended that train staff are briefed to ensure passengers are signposted to the appropriate part of the train where they have a first-class ticket, which did not happen in this case.
Consumer C – First Class catering and reservations dispute
Consumer C complained that due to delays, they missed their connection and had to take an alternative route. This meant a delayed journey, and in addition no at-seat catering was provided for over two hours. The Consumer was seeking compensation for the delay.
The Consumer’s tickets were retained by the barrier. The Consumer’s complaint about service issues was only raised when appealing their Delay Repay claim. Given the lack of ticket evidence to show the date of travel and timing of the complaint, the Rail Ombudsman was unable to consider an award for the train service complaint or the delay.
The Rail Ombudsman recommended that the industry considers if there could be better signposting during travel about not using the ticket barrier to exit, if wanting to make a claim using that ticket.
Consumer D – First Class catering, reservations and crowding dispute
Consumer D complained they were unable to use their reserved first-class seats and had to stand for the full journey. As a result, they were also unable to do work whilst travelling and this was the main reason they had booked first class. The Consumer further complained about antisocial behaviour of other passengers. The RSP offered the difference in cost between standard and first-class, in addition to a complimentary first-class journey.
Consumer D was seeking a full refund and additional compensation. The RSP offered a full refund during mediation plus the complimentary first class journey. The Consumer rejected this.
The adjudication considered the Consumer’s experience against the accepted conditions on the service. The Consumer was awarded a 50% refund since the consumer was able to make the journey, but with a reduction to the expected service.
In this case it is important to note that the RSP made an offer in mediation which was over and above the Rail Ombudsman’s award at adjudication. This is because, at adjudication, the Rail Ombudsman’s will primarily consider the consumer’s entitlement under the Industry Arrangements (such as the Passenger Charter and National Rail Conditions of Travel) and/or any applicable law (such as the Consumer Rights Act 2015). Where this does happen, it will be at the discretion of the RSP as to whether they want to honour the original offer made.
Consumer E – Air conditioning dispute
Consumer E complained about a lack of air conditioning when travelling on a very hot day. They were seeking an explanation or apology, a refund and compensation for the conditions on the train. They had received Delay Repay separately. The RSP provided an explanation about how the air conditioning may have been affected that day through the high temperatures, crowding and air coming in when the doors opened. The RSP advised Consumer E that the fault was logged internally to be checked.
During mediation the RSP advised further that there was extreme weather that day and every unit required resetting at the Consumer’s departure station, which will have impacted the effectiveness of air conditioning on the service.
Following a period of mediation, the RSP offered a variety of vouchers, and Consumer E accepted a £15 shop voucher to settle the claim – in addition to the further explanations received.
Consumer F – crowding, reservations and toilet dispute
Consumer F complained about travel with their family on a 2-3 hour train journey. They stated that the service was overcrowded, reservations not available and toilets were without water or toilet roll. Also, no staff were available to help. The RSP offered a partial refund plus discount codes against future travel, but this was rejected by the Consumer F. Consumer F was seeking a full refund and compensation.
The adjudication found that given the Passenger Charter wording and the way reservations were advertised by the RSP, it was reasonable that Consumer F had relied on their reservations, particularly noting that their tickets cost over £200. An award of £50 was made for all on-train issues.
Consumer G – Accessibility and toilet dispute
Consumer G was a disabled passenger and they were on a short-formed service which was too busy to allow access to the disabled toilet, even though they were seated close to it. Consumer G complained that when they eventually accessed the toilet they found it was out of order. This resulted in a toileting accident and a panic attack on the train. Consumer G stated that they had lost confidence in rail travel. The RSP had sent National Rail Vouchers and paid Delay Repay. However, the Consumer was seeking a high amount of additional compensation.
Consumer G had not prebooked Passenger Assistance and there was no evidence that the RSP was aware of the Consumer’s requirements before or during the journey The Rail Ombudsman adjudication considered the information on the RSP’s website about toilet facilities and awarded a full refund of Consumer G’s tickets in cash, as opposed to vouchers. The Rail Ombudsman acknowledges that rail vouchers may be an appropriate offer particularly where the complaint is about a loss of confidence in rail travel. However, in this case, the Consumer had already clarified that rail vouchers were of no use, and it was considered appropriate based on the evidence to award a cash alternative.
Consumer G had sought guarantees about future travel, but that was beyond the remit of the Rail Ombudsman to award and it was noted that the Making Rail Accessible policy did not provide any such guarantees. However, a call with an Accessibility Lead was awarded to increase confidence for future travel and to explain to the Consumer what action to take if they found themselves in similar circumstances.
Consumer H – Catering and reservations dispute
Consumer H complained that they had limited time when boarding due to delays in arriving at the station and were then unable to access their reservations when on board because they could not walk through the train, so they had no seat for the entire journey. Also, there was no buffet trolley to enable purchase of refreshments, and the Consumer advised on reliance on being able to purchase refreshments during the journey. The RSP made offers in mediation that were rejected.
The RSP did accept that Consumer H should have been told to change carriage, if a Train Manager had the opportunity to do so. At adjudication there was no evidence to enable a fair assessment of any advice given, or if there was the opportunity for staff to give advice about changing carriages, once the train was in motion.
The Rail Ombudsman found that a loss of seat reservations mainly resulted from boarding quickly due to earlier delays, beyond the RSP’s control. No award could be made as no failure in the service operated by the RSP was evidenced.
Comments from the Ombudsman
The main learnings for the RSPs and rail industry were noted within the recommendations highlighted.
Where catering is advertised, the Rail Ombudsman considers that expectations of a catering service in accordance with the published information, particularly on long journeys are reasonable. Catering is often marked as subject to availability, but it should be recognised that an evidenced lack of catering could still constitute a service reduction nonetheless, and this will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
In terms of other advertised facilities, such as toilets, there is often information indicated on the train itself. The Rail Ombudsman considers that when services are reduced, out of order or otherwise not as advertised, the RSP should have a real-time channel available for consumers to report such issues and, depending on the nature of the service, mechanisms for dealing with these to provide alternatives.
The following are points to note for any consumer wishing to claim for the above:
- If you complete your journey, that is considered to be a substantive part of the service, so a full refund is unlikely for a reduction in service.
- First class offerings differ depending on which provider you are travelling with. Even if you purchase your ticket from a third-party retailer, check who your service provider is and more information should be on their website (and within the Passenger Charter) about what can be expected in first class.
- Overcrowding – the Office of Rail and Road, notes that ‘crowding reflects the GB railway’s flexible ‘turn up and go’ model’ – as per the ORR position statement on crowding. Therefore, a full service will not necessarily mean the RSP is providing an unsafe service, and no seat is guaranteed without a reservation.
- If you wish to make any claim about your journey then make sure you retain your ticket where possible. Do NOT put it into the ticket barrier, if staff are on hand to let you through. If using the barrier is unavoidable, take a photograph of the ticket, if possible, and the fact no staff were available.
- There are set processes for applying for Delay Repay and refunds. Follow the RSP instructions on these to avoid missing the 28-day deadline. Any additional claims can go separately to customer services, but make sure you apply through the prescribed routes where possible, and if directed to do so.
- Refreshments can be subject to availability you should make arrangements if, in the case that these are unavailable, this will create discomfort and/or an emergency situation for you.