The Rail Ombudsman has worked through different periods of disruption to rail travel during industrial action. Some specific examples and learning points are noted below:
- Consumer A had pre-purchased a train ticket for travel to an airport station. A then arrived at the station to find no services running due to strikes. A advised that they were travelling to catch a pre-booked flight from the airport and therefore took a taxi for which they were claiming compensation.
- Consumer B held an Advance Single ticket purchased for Sunday travel in August 2021 to return from a holiday. They were informed that the first leg of their return journey (with the RSP) was cancelled and that no trains had been running on a Sunday for several months, due to industrial action. As a result of this, they incurred additional costs for a hotel stay and meals, to enable travel home the following day. B also claimed for additional travel costs because new tickets were purchased for part of the journey the next day.
- Consumer C purchased Anytime Returns for travel with that RSP, a month in advance. C needed to be back by a particular time due to other commitments. C stated that their party returned early from an additional part of their trip because they became aware of strikes on the outward journey, and returned the day before they had planned to resulting in additional costs for a hotel night and the taxi costs to get to the hotel. C further claimed for unused car hire costs and accommodation costs lost due to travelling back a day early.
- Consumer D complained that their return journey was cancelled due to strikes and therefore, they had to cancel their entire trip. The Consumer evidenced that that were unable to claim a refund from their prebooked hotel and were seeking compensation for this. The RSP refunded train tickets but advised that ticket acceptance had been arranged, so it was possible for the Consumer to complete their journey.
- Consumer E commenced travel to an airport to catch a flight. The service terminated prematurely and the Consumer called the RSP’s helpline to obtain advice about onward travel. The Consumer stated that they were told to source alternative travel and retain the taxi receipt to obtain a refund. The RSP offered rail vouchers to the value of the Consumer’s taxi prior to Ombudsman escalation.
- Consumer F held a First Class Advance Single ticket, but arrived at the station to find their service was cancelled due to strike action. The Consumer boarded the next service departing half an hour later, and arrived 30 minutes later than scheduled on a service with on first class available on it. The Consumer was seeking compensation for being late for an evening meal.
Delay Repay or refunds were generally provided where due, prior to Rail Ombudsman escalation. In other cases, consumers’ claims were transferred to the appropriate rail provider. Some RSPs did offer full or partial compensation for additional costs, whilst others rejected them on the basis that there were notices warning of possible strike action and amended timetables were in place.
What the Ombudsman did
In every case, the Ombudsman will try to find agreement between the parties.
Where the RSP providing the service was also the retailer, the RSPs were asked for evidence of information provided during the booking process. In all cases, evidence was reviewed about information available before, during and after travel about industrial action. Where relevant, evidence of amended timetables was also requested, and independent data about train schedules would be considered alongside this.
The ticket terms
The starting point in considering entitlement is the National Rail Conditions of Travel, which states:
27.2 If the replacement is at short notice and you cannot complete your journey because we are unable to transport your luggage, articles, animals and/or cycles by road vehicle, and you therefore decided not to travel, you will be entitled to claim a refund of your Ticket(s) under Conditions 30.1 – 30.4 without any administration charge for the journey…
28.2 Where disruption prevents you from completing the journey for which your Ticket is valid and is being used, any Train Company will, where it reasonably can, provide you with alternative means of travel to your destination, or if necessary, provide overnight accommodation for you…
Conditions 30.1 –30.4 cover all Tickets other than Season Tickets, and also apply if you have begun your journey but are unable to complete it due to a delay to, or cancellation of, your service. In such cases, you are permitted to return to your point of origin and still get a refund.
Some Passenger Charters do advise that timetables are subject to change at short notice and note the RSP website as the best resource for information and/or National Rail Enquiries.
Booking confirmations will provide basic ticket information, and will direct consumers to the terms of the ticket, but may not have specific information relating to strike action and/or other possible disruption.
In Consumer B’s case, the RSP offered and the Consumer accepted a contribution to their costs. Most cases required Adjudication despite some offers of partial compensation being put forward.
Where cases required Adjudication, the Rail Ombudsman reviewed the evidence provided by the RSP, the Consumer, in addition to online public information.
In some cases awards were made due to the following:
- Lack of evidence to support information provided by the RSP to evidence that there was a published amended timetable, combined with limited options provided to the Consumer for alternative travel. For example, evidenced non-refundable hotel costs were awarded.
- However, an offer of National Rail Vouchers was endorsed as an award, due to the lack of evidenced information available to the Consumer about alternative travel options at the time.
- Consumer F was awarded the difference between standard and first class travel because they used alternative routes, but First Class was declassified.
In other cases, there was no award:
- The Consumer asserted that they should not have been sold a ticket for travel during strike action. However, it was considered reasonable to sell tickets for travel a few weeks later, because there would be no way of knowing when the strikes would end, particularly as it was noted in the news that strikes were due to conclude at the end of that month, thus demonstrating that such strike action on the date of travel was not necessarily confirmed prior to purchase.
- The Rail Ombudsman would expect certain information to be provided about strike action when purchasing a ticket. The RSP did advise what information they would have provided on their website if retailing that ticket, but as the tickets were purchased from a third party, we could not make the RSP directly responsible for retail information in this case.
- The RSP retailer provided evidence of information displayed on their website since strikes had begun – this included notifications of the strikes, a dedicated strike webpage and banners on the homepage, and other pop-ups during the booking process.
- If the Consumer was clearly aware of the timetable changes prior to the date of travel supported by other evidence of that amended timetable, the Rail Ombudsman found that the Consumer was able to use their ticket in line with the terms on which it was issued.
- Insufficient evidence of an authorised taxi which was arguably not required.
Learning for the Rail Industry
The lack of information provided on booking confirmations was raised as part of the evidence in some cases arising from industrial action. The Rail Ombudsman recommended that the industry considers the format for booking confirmations to consider if the check before travel requirement could be made more explicit, and where possible, if specific notifications could be included as standard, such as strike action warnings.
Some claims for losses were blocked based on strike action alone, and it was recommended that there must always be consideration of wider rights under the Consumer Rights Act – such as provision of information when purchasing and travelling.
The industry expresses understanding of how important it is to provide timely and accurate information prior to and during strike action, regardless of the Consumer’s method of purchase.
The Rail Ombudsman is unable to look into complaints about the strike action itself, but can review any related consumer issues.
Purchase considerations – If strike action is ongoing, tickets for travel on affected lines can still be sold, if a service is still available in the timetable – this may apply for tickets purchased in advance. If all services are suspended, and no other Operator covers that journey, then journey planners should be showing as no fares available for the selected journey. The affected Operator affected provides updated information to retailers, in accordance with industry processes. If a ticket in purchased in-person a ticket office clerk would generally be expected to advise if industrial action may affect a journey.
Key information source(s) – The primary source for updated information is journey planners, as booking confirmations do not always contain all travel warnings. Timetables can be subject to change, regardless of strike action. The ‘Published Timetable of the Day’ can be changed up to 22:00 the previous day, in line with the National Rail Conditions of Travel. Any Delay Repay is measured against this, as opposed to any timetable in place when purchasing a ticket.
Evidence – As in previous cases studies, the Rail Ombudsman urges consumers to always retain evidence of costs; and where possible, seek advice from staff at stations or via the telephone or other media before taking an alternative route. If a taxi has not been authorised, it may not be paid so consumers are advised to ensure they get evidence of any such pre-authorisation, where applicable and possible.
Assistance bookings – If travelling with prebooked assistance, and no information about alternative travel is forthcoming, then consumers are advised to contact the RSP with whom they are due to travel with first, as it is the relevant station and RSP’s responsibility to advise during disruption. It is noted that specific information was provided by most service provider websites about assistance bookings during strikes in June 2022. For example, the Rail Ombudsman has noted that Consumers affected by the June 2020 strikes were advised in June that RSPs would be in touch directly with all affected assistance bookings and we would evaluate to what extent this was the case in any claim brought to the Rail Ombudsman on this point.