Train company First Great Western is to stop halving the compensation it pays for delays if paying passengers request it in cash, after MoneySavingExpert raised concerns over the policy with the Department for Transport.
New rules brought in on 19 July mean that rail passengers hit by delays can opt to claim compensation in cash rather than rail vouchers.
But for the past month First Great Western, one of the country's largest train companies which carries one and a half million passengers each week, has been telling passengers on its High Speed services they can only claim 50% of the compensation they would usually be able to for single, return and weekly season tickets, if they request it in cash.
It said this was because those asking for cash would only be given the bare minimum they were legally entitled to under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, rather than the more generous compensation usually offered by the company to those given a voucher.
The issue was first highlighted to us by graphic designer Sam Jolly, 36, of Bristol, who tried to claim the full value of his £30 single ticket for a 78 minute delay suffered when he was travelling from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington on 7 August.
But after asking to be paid by cheque and receiving just half what he expected, he lodged a complaint with the company and tweeted us.
When we contacted First Great Western, it initially defended its policy, which was also listed on its website and stated to several passengers who contacted the company's Twitter account.
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A First Great Western spokesperson told MoneySavingExpert on Wednesday that passengers "will be offered 100% of the delayed journey in rail vouchers or 50% should you wish to have cash, ie cheque".
But after MoneySavingExpert contacted the Department for Transport, which brought in the new rules in July and has trumpeted the move to cash compensation, First Great Western backtracked, said it had changed its policy and apologised for what it described as an 'error'.
Passengers will now be able to claim full compensation in cash, and those who've only been given half the compensation they're owed can reclaim the rest – we explain how to do this below.
Rail minister: 'No-one should be left out of pocket for choosing cash'
After MoneySavingExpert.com contacted the Department for Transport to raise concern over First Great Western's policy, rail minister Claire Perry said: "Passengers should be compensated for delays to their journeys, and I am absolutely clear that no customer should be left out of pocket simply for choosing to take that compensation in cash, which they are fully entitled to.
"I understand that First Great Western has apologised and is taking swift action to resolve this issue, and I urge customers who have been affected to contact them."
'Worrying passengers may have been left out of pocket'
Steve Nowottny, consumer and features editor at MoneySavingExpert, says: "The change in rail regulations to allow compensation to be claimed as cash rather than vouchers was supposed to be good news for passengers – but it's utterly pointless if passengers get much less when they opt for cash.
"First Great Western may have been acting within the letter of the rules, but it certainly wasn't acting in the spirit of them.
"Today's U-turn is a welcome one, but it's a shame it took MoneySavingExpert contacting the Government to prompt a rethink, and worrying that passengers delayed in the last month may have been left out of pocket.
"First Great Western really ought to be proactively contacting any passengers who've received lower levels of cash compensation and offering them the full amount. It's extremely disappointing it's not willing to do this to rectify its error – but in the meantime any passengers affected should contact the company to make sure they get what they're due."
Who's affected by the change in policy?
Confusingly, First Great Western actually operates three separate sets of services, all of which have different delay compensation policies. These are:
- First Great Western High Speed (formerly First Great Western – these are high-speed services between London and the South West or Wales)
- First Great Western London & Thames Valley (formerly First Great Western Link – shorter stopping services in and around London and the Thames Valley area)
- First Great Western Regional (formerly Wessex trains – services in central Southern England).
This change mainly affects First Great Western High Speed passengers, as they are allowed to claim the full cost of their single ticket, or 50% of their return, if they are delayed for more than an hour.
Other First Great Western passengers are unlikely to be affected because they are usually only able to claim the minimum amount set out in the National Rail Conditions of Carriage anyway.
This issue also only affects those with single, return or weekly season tickets. First Great Western passengers with season tickets for a month or more are entitled to compensation under a different set of rules. Here they are automatically compensated when they renew their ticket if First Great Western fails to achieve the punctuality and reliability targets set out in its passenger charter.
These passengers are also able to claim where there has been extended disruption during a morning or evening peak period where no alternative travel (such as rail replacement service) has been provided.
I accepted cash compensation from First Great Western. Can I get the rest of my money back?
From today onwards First Great Western says passengers claiming compensation will get the same amount regardless of whether they request it in cash or rail vouchers.
However it says it won't be proactively contacting customers who only got back half of what they are owed since the new rules took effect. If you're affected, you need to email firstname.lastname@example.org to get the rest of your money back.
First Great Western was unable to tell us how many passengers had opted for cash compensation since the new rules came into effect in July, but said it believes it is a "small number".
I want to claim cash compensation from a different company, how does this affect me?
Each train company sets its own compensation levels for delays – but all of the other main train companies have confirmed to us that customers will not lose out if they choose cash compensation over rail vouchers.
However, in some cases they will only pay you by cheque, or you may have to go to a ticket office to change your vouchers into cash.
For each individual train companies policy see our Train Delays guide.
First Great Western 'sorry for impact on customers'
A spokesman for First Great Western says: "This is an error, and we're very grateful MoneySavingExpert has brought this to our attention.
"First Great Western's passenger charter offers a more generous compensation scheme than the industry standard set out in the National Conditions of Carriage, but the charter has not been updated to reflect the move to cash payments last month.
"Customers can receive 100% of their compensation entitlement, at the level set out in our passenger charter, in cash, and we will immediately amend the details on our website to make this absolutely clear.
"We're sorry for any impact this has had on customers, and are of course happy to convert rail vouchers issued since the changes came in 19 July. Please email email@example.com."