Train delays and cancellations: how to get a refund

The only thing regular about the UK train timetables at the moment is strike action.

Members of the Aslef union from 16 train operators have been striking on several dates so far this year, “in a long running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions”, said The Money Edit.

Strikes have coincided with major events such as the Eurovision Song Contest and now this weekend’s FA Cup Final.

Travel operators have suggested that passengers should avoid rail travel on affected days where possible, “with severe delays and cancellations likely”.

However, said The Sun, if you’ve already purchased a train ticket, you will still be entitled to a refund or compensation for delays and cancellations even if you don’t travel.

Am I entitled to a refund?

While the rules vary from company to company, most operators work under the Department for Transport’s “Delay Repay” scheme.

This aims to make it “easier for you to get compensation for delayed train journeys”, said National Rail. 

The delay is calculated against either the normal timetable, or an amended timetable that is published in advance 

Under Delay Repay, on both a normal day and when strike action takes place, passengers can claim compensation for delays greater than 15 minutes with full money back for trips that arrive more than an hour later than scheduled.

If you have paid for a single-use ticket, be it an advance ticket, off-peak ticket or anytime ticket, explained MoneySavingExpert, you should be eligible for a partial or full refund if your train is delayed due to the strikes. 

The compensation thresholds are:

  • 25% off a single fare (12.5% off a return) for delays 15-29 minutes
  • 50% of the single fare (25% off a return) for delays of 30 to 59 minutes
  • 100% of the single fare (50% off a return) for delays of 60 minutes to 119 minutes
  • 100% of the total ticket cost, including returns, for delays of two hours or more

The rules are different for season ticket holders.

If you have an annual season ticket, you get 1/464th of the price back for every ‘single journey’ that needs to be refunded, explained The Money Edit. If you have a monthly season ticket it’s 1/40th of the price while if you have a weekly season ticket it’s 1/10th.

Does Delay Repay cover cancellations as well?

It makes no difference whether your train is delayed or cancelled, the important question is how much later it arrives at its destination than its scheduled time.

You can get a refund for your unused train ticket with no fees, said National Rail, if your train is delayed or cancelled and you decide not to travel.

Under a one-off arrangement, added Metro, season ticket holders will be able to claim back 100% of the Delay Repay compensation they are entitled to if they decide not to travel on strike days.

This applies to the strike days themselves and not the days in-between though.

How do you apply?

You have 28 days to apply for a refund through Delay Repay. This can be done either online or via a pre-printed form available at most train stations.

The process varies depending on the train operator, said The Sun, but normally you need to contact the company, provide a picture of your ticket and details of the train you were supposed to be on.

You can claim compensation by visiting the train company’s website – most have online forms you can use or you can write a letter if you prefer, explained Citizens Advice.

How is compensation paid?

Season ticket holders will receive the refund into their bank account, said The Money Edit, while those who have an advance ticket will get an e-voucher to use against the cost of a future rail ticket.

You don’t have to accept vouchers, added Citizens Advice, “if you want a cash refund, you can insist on it”.

The turnaround time once a claim has been submitted is usually between one or two weeks, although this often varies depending on the number of claims being processed.

Which services are not covered?

Customers are not entitled to compensation for delays or cancellations deemed to be beyond the train operator’s control. This includes severe weather, trespassers on the line, and any mechanical or electrical failure not caused by the operator.

However, it could still be worth contacting the train company – MoneySavingExpert cites several instances where passengers have received vouchers as a goodwill gesture after suffering these kinds of delays.

What about if you are unable to travel?

If there is no delay or cancellation but you are unable to travel on your booked train for personal reasons, you may be able to claim a refund by returning the unused tickets to the train company or booking service. Most companies charge admin fees of around £10, which will be subtracted from your eventual refund.

Under National Rail’s conditions of carriage, if you return the unused ticket to the ticket office immediately, you should receive your refund on the spot. Otherwise, you have 28 days after the expiry date of the ticket to post it to the service operator, who will then send your refund.

What about extra expenses?

Any extra expenses resulting from a delay, such as taxi fares, missed theatre tickets or additional child care costs, must be submitted to the train operator citing the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA).

The law says consumers are entitled to seek compensation when a service they have paid for is not provided, which in the case of trains, means being given a taxi or other transportation in lieu of a cancelled or delayed service.

Operators require a copy of all receipts and a reason why the delay justified the additional expenses.

The i news site reports that consumer group Which? has accused UK rail companies of “misleading” passengers over compensation and refusing to accept liability for expenses such as taxi fares.

You can take your complaint further, added Citizens Advice, if you’re not happy with the response from your train company.

One consideration will be how much you knew about your train being cancelled or delayed due to strikes.

When applying the CRA, explained The Complaining Cow, the Rail Ombudsman will consider “what reasonable steps a consumer could have taken to reduce the impact of additional expenses, such as hotel/taxi costs”.


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