Railway firms skirt the law on compensation claims, says Which?

11 June 2018

Some train companies are providing misleading advice to passengers about their rights to claim reasonable costs when there is disruption to their train service and it’s the railway company’s fault, a new investigation has revealed.

Passengers are entitled to claim for consequential losses when they are forced to pay for alternative transport – for example, when they have to take a taxi after the last train is cancelled.

However, Which? has found that some companies were potentially breaching consumer law by refusing to consider consequential loss claims. 

The consumer group asked mystery shoppers to phone 26 operators twice to ask if an elderly friend or relative would be eligible for compensation when the last train of the night was cancelled and they were forced to pay for a taxi.

Twelve out of 26 railway firms provided incorrect or inconsistent advice, with six companies - Cross Country, Grand Central, Greater Anglia, Heathrow Express, ScotRail and Stansted Express - all wrongly saying in both phone calls that passengers could not make a claim.

When Which? reported their findings to the companies concerned, ScotRail, Greater Anglia, Stansted Express and Grand Central all said that they do cover consequential losses, suggesting that staff are unware or not trained adequately in the correct procedures. 

Meanwhile, Heathrow Express confirmed that it plans to retrain their staff and Cross Country did not respond to Which’s request for comment. 

Arriva Wales, Chiltern, Southeastern, Thameslink/Great Northern, Virgin West Coast and West Midlands all fared slightly better, but Which? says that while the advice was not always wrong, it was inconsistent.

On a positive note, 13 out of 26 train companies gave good advice over the phone: Northern, Southwestern, Southern, Gatwick Express, TransPennine Express, East Midland, C2C, Virgin East Coast, Great Western Railway, Merseyrail, Heathrow Connect, London North Western and TFL Rail.This is up from just five companies in a similar exercise Which? undertook in March.

Alex Hayman, Which? managing director of public markets, says: “This is the latest in a catalogue of examples of train companies treating their passengers with breath-taking disregard. They have been warned time and again about their duties to ensure their passengers are getting the money they are owed when they fail to deliver, yet they fail to act until forced.

"The regulator must now start showing some teeth and take immediate enforcement action or the government has no choice but to step in and stand up for passengers and their rights.”

Offered a chance to respond to the criticisms, both Greater Anglia and Stansted Express said they don’t cancel the last train as a general rule and would organise taxis and buses or would compensate passengers who paid for a taxi.

Grand Central said it would arrange alternative rail, coach or taxi transport at its own expense or in rare cases arrange accommodation. 

Scotrail said it “will do everything we can to provide replacement buses or taxis to get customers where they need to be”.

However, a spokesperson for Govia Thameslink Railway said that it did not accept the validity of the research because two calls were not enough to validate any conclusions. 

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