Rail passengers in England and Wales will be offered more protection when they are issued with a penalty fare if they have made a genuine mistake, the Department for Transport has announced.
While fare dodgers will continue to receive tough penalties, people who have a genuine reason for not having a valid ticket will now be able to challenge a penalty via an independent appeals committee that is not connected to the railway network.
A penalty fare can be issued where a passenger travels without a valid ticket, is unable to produce a railcard on a discounted ticket, stays on the train beyond the destination they have paid for or travels in the wrong class.
Passengers receive a charge of either £20 or twice the full single fare from the station where they boarded the train to the next station at which the train stops.
Once an appeal is received, the 21-day deadline for the payment of a penalty fare will be extended until the outcome of the appeal is known.
The aim is to offer a more considered approach as to how and why the penalty fare was issued so that passengers are not unfairly penalised.
The new regulations will make the appeals system more consistent and clearer across all the rail companies. It will also cut down on red tape: passengers lodging an appeal will now have to read just one guidance document instead of three.
There will be two penalty appeal services under the new regulations – Penalty Services and Appeal Services – depending on which railway company issues the penalty. Both can be accessed from today.
Rail minister Jo Johnson says: “Rail users should make every effort to get the right ticket for their journey but if you make an honest mistake, you should feel confident that the appeals system will recognise this and treat you fairly.
“We are simplifying the rules around penalty fares and introducing an independent appeals process to help those who make a genuine error when using the railway.”
Jac Starr, managing director of customer experience at membership body for British railway firms, the Rail Delivery Group, adds: “Customers sometimes make genuine mistakes and the changes to the penalty fares system, which is meant to deter fare dodgers, will help those who feel they have been mistreated and ensure there is enough time to deal with their appeal.”
In Northern Ireland, NI Railways operates its own appeals process for penalty fares. Full details are available on the Translink website.
In Scotland, there are no penalty fares, but a spokesperson for ScotRail told Moneywise that if a customer is travelling without a ticket, ScotRail would in the first instance ask them for a means to pay. If they are unable to pay there and then, the customer would be issued with a ticket irregularity (TI) form. This form captures their details and the customer then takes to a ticket office to pay the fare at a later date.
He adds that, in most instances, customers will follow this process and either pay the fare there and then or take the TI to a ticket office later. However, when the TI is not paid, the company would start the process for debt recovery. In serious instances, for example, persistent fare evasion, the use or production of forged or counterfeit tickets, offenders may be prosecuted in accordance with the Fraud Act 2006.