Commuters in England face an up to 1% increase in rail fares next year after official inflation figures used to calculate the rise were published today.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation over the year to July was 1% – no change from June – the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced today. Meanwhile the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure of inflation was announced as 0.1%, up from 0% in the year to June.

This means the price of regulated rail fares will rise by up to 1% in January 2016, as under Government rules, train fares can only rise in line with the previous July's RPI. Last year rail fares were allowed to rise by the previous year's July RPI figure plus 1%.

The potential 1% rise only applies to regulated tickets though, which includes season tickets, day single and return tickets around major cities and long distance off-peak return tickets. This accounts for about half of all tickets.

Unregulated fares, such as off-peak leisure tickets and first class tickets, are set by the train companies, not the Government.

What about rail fares in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?

Rail fares are a devolved matter in the UK, so here's what's happening elsewhere:

  • Northern Ireland: Today's news doesn't affect rail fares in Northern Ireland as it doesn't use July's RPI to calculate price changes. Instead it says it regularly reviews prices and takes a number of factors into consideration when setting fares.

  • Scotland: The July RPI figure is used to determine the rate of increase in regulated fares on ScotRail services. So regulated peak fares will increase by 1% from 2 January 2016 under the formula RPI plus 0%, while regulated off peak fares will remain frozen under the formula RPI minus 1%.

  • Wales: The Welsh Government is expected to confirm rail prices for 2016 in the next few weeks. However, this year's increase was calculated using July's RPI figure plus 1% – the same as in England.

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'Lowest hike we've seen for several years'

Steve Nowottny, consumer and features editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, says: "There's some relief for commuters in today's announcement – the 1% hike in regulated fares next January will be the lowest we've seen for several years, and it's good to see hikes firmly pegged to RPI rather than somewhere above it. Yet that's not the whole story.

"For a start, only half of fares are regulated, and we've yet to see how much unregulated fares such as off-peak leisure and advance tickets will rise. And looking at the broader picture, many passengers will find any hike at all hard to stomach, given the steep, successive, inflation-busting rises we've seen over the last few years.

"There are ways passengers can beat the fares hike and cut the cost of train travel, for example by 'splitting tickets', finding cheaper routes, using railcards, booking advance tickets late and earning cashback.

"In the meantime, though, public confidence in train companies, the way the railways are run and the frankly bizarre pricing of some tickets remains low – unfortunately, it will take more than one modest rise in regulated fares to win it back."

Martin Abrams, from the Campaign for Better Transport, adds that this is not a price freeze. In a guest article published on MoneySavingExpert.com today, he wrote: "While today's announcement will see the lowest fares increase for over a decade, it's not a 'freeze' as some have described it, it just means train fares will increase at a slower rate than they did in the recent past."

He adds that there is still "so much more that must be done to give rail users what they want: an affordable and reliable railway for everyone". In particular, the group is campaigning for flexible tickets for part-time workers.

Rail fares to rise by up to 1% from January 2016
Rail fares to rise by up to 1% from January 2016

Save money on train fares

Here are some of our top tips to help you battle rising rail costs – see our Cheap Trains guide for more:

  • Buy in advance. Most train companies put tickets on sale around 12 weeks ahead. So the earlier you book, the more chance you have of getting one of their cheap advance tickets.
  • Two singles can beat a return. If you're going on a return journey, check if two singles are cheaper. It may not always be cheaper, but it's worth a try.
  • Get a railcard. Frequent travellers should consider a railcard, if they qualify for one. Those aged 16-25, the over-60s, those with disabilities and adults who travel with kids may all qualify. Most railcards cost £30 a year (£20 for a disabled person) and get the holder a third off many fares.
  • Split your ticket. Imagine you're travelling from London to Sheffield. If the train stops at Derby, check whether it's cheaper to buy a ticket from London to Derby and a second ticket from Derby to Sheffield. It's perfectly legal as long as the train stops at that intermediate station. Use our free TicketySplit tool to find out if you can get a cheaper walk-on single fare by breaking down your journey.

  • Look for hidden promos. Lots of train companies have hidden promotions buried on their websites – which you won't find if you're going through a ticket booking website. For a full list of hidden promos, see our Cheap Train Deals page.