Most passengers claiming compensation for train delays should automatically be given a cheque instead of rail vouchers from tomorrow – but the law to enforce this has been postponed by six months.

The transport element of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (which is already largely in force) was supposed to take effect tomorrow. What mattered in this case was firms would've had to stop automatically reimbursing customers with vouchers, and instead compensate them to their original payment method within 14 days of their claims being accepted.

This part of the law has been postponed until at least 1 October 2016. However, Parliament is set to debate further delays to other aspects of the transport section of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 in the summer, meaning more changes to the rules may not come into force until October 2017.

No train firms' systems were ready for the change but most had at least got far enough to be able to hand out cheques as the default option. Previously, the default was to send rail vouchers, which were useless for those not planning to travel by train again in future. See our Train Delays guide for how to get compensation.

The reason for the delay is unclear. A Government spokesperson says the postponement will "allow the industry time to move to an improved, consistent compensation scheme".

Martin Lewis
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What will my train company do?

For delay claims made from 6 April 2016 onwards, many train companies have said they will refund you by cheque as a default rather than rail vouchers. Most have said it should be sent within 14 days of them agreeing to pay compensation.

Train companies' default compensation methods

Train company Default payment method for compensation
Abellio Greater Anglia Cheque
Arriva Trains Wales Cheque
c2c Cheque
Chiltern Railways Cheque
CrossCountry Cheque
East Midlands Cheque
First Transpennine Express Cheque
Grand Central Cheque
Great Northern Refused to say
Great Western Railway Cheque
Hull Trains Cheque
Merseyrail Unable to say
Northern Refused to say
ScotRail Vouchers but working towards cash compensation
Southeastern Refused to say
Thameslink Refused to say
Transport for London Unable to say
Virgin East Coast Cheque
Virgin Trains Cheque

Meanwhile, some train companies have already begun working on better repayment systems. These include Arriva Trains Wales, which is hoping to introduce bank transfers by the summer.

Virgin automatically refunds passengers who booked advance tickets via its website or app for delays of more than 30 minutes, while c2c automatically refunds smartcard holders for delays of two minutes or more. See the c2c passengers win automatic compensation for delays MSE News story.

Train delay compensation shake-up is, er... delayed (but at least you'll get a cheque instead of vouchers)
Train delay compensation shake-up is, er... delayed (but at least you'll get a cheque instead of vouchers)

How can I claim for a train delay?

If your train's been delayed or cancelled, make sure you check if you can claim a refund.

The National Rail Conditions of Carriage officially state you can only claim if it's the train company's fault and after an hour's delay, but in practice most train companies have a policy of paying out after a delay of 30 minutes regardless of the reason. The amount varies by train firm but a ballpark average is 50% of the fare.

For full step-by-step info on how to claim, see our Train Delays guide, but in brief:

  • Keep hold of your tickets – it's much easier to claim if you have the original.
  • Check what the train company will offer. (See individual firms' policies.)
  • Make a note of the delay and the reason for it. Request a claim form from the station, your train company's website or by phone.
  • Apply within the time limit, typically 28 days (but check).
  • If you're rejected for compensation or a refund but still think you have a case, complain. If necessary, take your complaint to Transport Focus.

Figures released last month show that passengers don't claim for around 80% of train delays and there have been calls to make the process much simpler for users. See the Passengers don't claim for 80% of train delays MSE News story for more.

Why has there been a delay with the law?

While the exact reason for the delay is unclear, it remains the case that none of the train firms can refund customers to their original payment method as they should, because their systems aren't ready yet. The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies and Network Rail, has told us that they currently have no way of knowing when the problem will be fixed.

Why are the changes being made?

While vouchers were previously the default, since July 2015 train companies have at least given passengers the option of a cheque, though it wasn't always clear.

As well as setting out the rights for train passengers, the law will also apply to air, ferry and cruise passengers. However, separate EU rules trump this for flights, so airlines must have already offered cash (see Flight Delay Compensation).

The Government wanted to simplify consumer rights and make it easier for customers to have things put right when they go wrong.

A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson says train companies are working towards new systems but there are many complexities, such as bookings being taken through third party sites, and the original payment details not being retained by train companies.

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