Hundreds of thousands of Southern Rail passengers face continued disruption due to further strike action this month, with a survey showing that previous industrial action has left commuters struggling to get to work and out of pocket. With the possibility of strikes affecting other train operators, we show you how to claw back cash for delays and associated losses.
A poll of 630 Southern passengers by passenger watchdog Transport Focus found that 81% were affected by strike action in December.
The Transport Focus survey showed that 32% had to work from home, 29% had to cancel appointments and 7% had to stay in hotels to get to work. It also found that 18% had to cancel trips out, 10% had to take leave from work and 7% were forced to lose a day's pay.
Those responding to the survey represent just a fraction of the estimated 300,000 passengers who rely on Southern services daily – meaning many thousands of people are likely to have been left out of pocket due to the strikes.
Further strike action has been called next week on 10, 11 and 13 January, while yet more industrial action is scheduled later this month on 24, 25 and 27 January.
Meanwhile, staff at Arriva Rail North, which runs commuter services in Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, will hold a ballot to decide whether to strike in the coming months.
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Can I get a refund if my train's been delayed or cancelled by the strikes?
Southern has confirmed it will be offering ticket refunds to all those affected by recent and upcoming strike action.
- If you bought a ticket in advance, but decide not to travel due to strike action, you can return the ticket to the original retailer for a full refund. No administration fee will be charged.
- If you buy a ticket on the day but can't travel due to strike action, you can apply for compensation from Southern direct. You can also claim compensation if strike action meant your train was delayed by 30 minutes or more (before 11 December) or by 15 minutes or more (on or after December 11).
- If you have a season ticket, but decide not to travel, you can apply to the Southern compensation scheme and you should be reimbursed with the cost of a day's travel.
- If you have a season ticket but can't travel due to strike action, you'll be reimbursed with the cost of a day's travel if you apply to Southern's compensation scheme.
- If you have a season ticket and your journey is delayed due to strike action, you can claim compensation if your journey's delayed by 15 minutes or more for journeys on or after 11 December, or 30 minutes or more for journeys before 11 December. The amount you're awarded will depend on how late your train was.
The standard terms for refunds with any train company is that if you arrive at your destination 30 minutes or more later than scheduled, you should get at least a partial refund on the cost of your ticket. You're eligible for this provided the delay was a direct fault of the rail firm; further information on the amounts can be found in our Train Delays guide.
I'm out of pocket as a result of the Southern strikes – can I claim for staying in a hotel, lost pay etc?
'Consequential losses' is the technical term for any out-of-pocket expenses that you may have to pay as a direct result of a delayed or cancelled service. So, if you had to spend a night in a hotel because your train was cancelled, or you lost out on a day's pay, this would be classified as a consequential loss.
Unfortunately, claiming for consequential losses is a grey area, as under the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, train companies aren't held liable for compensating these costs.
However, in October 2016 the Consumer Rights Act came into force for all travel service providers. While the act itself doesn't specifically cover the right to claim for consequential losses, it might be possible to try to claim compensation using other common-law avenues, if a train firm fails to meet the basic requirements of the act. This is untested though, so there are no guarantees.
A spokesperson for Southern told us that while it believes it is "not contractually liable to passengers" under the Consumer Rights Act to make payments for consequential losses as a result of ongoing strike action, it will "look at cases on an individual basis".
If you want to try to exercise your rights under the Consumer Rights Act, you should always try to claim compensation first – the first step should be to contact the company directly and outline clearly how the service failed to meet adequate standards, and why this caused a consequential loss.
It's important to note that using the Consumer Rights Act to argue your case for compensation only applies if the cancellation or delay of services are considered to be the train company's responsibility. It's open to interpretation whether or not strike action is within a train company's control.
Your other rights explained
The Southern strikes have heaped misery on hundreds of thousands of commuters – here's what you can do about it if you've been affected:
- My employer has threatened to sack me for persistent lateness. Lots of Southern passengers have expressed fears their jobs may be at risk because the strike action has made it difficult for them to get into work on time.
We spoke to ACAS, the Government service responsible for offering reconciliation services for employers and employees, and it confirmed that lateness is technically an issue of misconduct, although it said it's "unlikely" anyone would lose their jobs over isolated incidents of lateness.
Richard Nicolle, partner at law firm Stewarts Law's employment department, says: "Employees can reasonably be expected to use all appropriate efforts to get to work however much personal disruption this causes".
But if in doubt, have a chat with your boss and explain the situation – most employers are likely to be understanding of your travel issues.
While persistent lateness is classed as a fair reason to terminate employment, in misconduct cases the company must follow a disciplinary process. This should include the following: a letter outlining the issue, a discussion of the issue, a disciplinary decision about the issue and a chance to appeal the decision.
- I was forced to lose a day's pay. If you couldn't get to work as a direct result of the strike action and ended up taking unpaid leave as a result, you may be able to argue that your loss of income was a consequential loss. To do this, you'll need to be able to demonstrate that the loss was linked to problems with the service.
The best way to do this is to contact Southern directly and politely outline how the delay left you out of pocket as you were prevented from getting to work. Outline that you think the delay may breach the company's responsibility to its passengers to provide a reasonable service under the Consumer Rights Act.
There's no guarantee this will work – as we say above, it's an untested route. But the company has agreed to "look at cases on an individual basis". This week Southern passenger Sergei Cristo reached an out-of-court settlement after suing the company over delays in 2014, so it's possible to get financial compensation.
- I had to fork out for a hotel because I couldn't get home from work. Your best bet in this instance would be to speak to your employer.
Many companies have money set aside for funding additional or unexpected costs, so your boss may allow you to expense hotel bills if a stay assisted you in doing your job – although there's no legal requirement for employers to pay out for this.
- My holiday was ruined after I missed my flight. If you miss your flight out of Gatwick (or any other airport for that matter) as a result of the Southern strikes, the first thing you should do is check your travel insurance, if you have any. Some policies will cover missed flights due to transport delays, so you may be able to get your money back through this route.
- I needed extra childcare. In cases where you think strike action may impact on your need for childcare it's essential you plan ahead. Fortunately, with the upcoming Southern strikes you've got time to discuss with your childcare provider any additional needs you may have in advance.
You should check the contract you have with your employer if you end up having to pay for additional childcare because of the strikes.
Some companies have specially tailored childcare policies as part of their employee benefits packages, so you might not be left out of pocket. If you've had to pay for additional services, this may be covered as part of your employee benefits package.
- I missed a hospital appointment. You should get in touch with the relevant hospital department as soon as possible to let them know why you missed your slot. They should be able to rearrange another appointment time for you – hopefully when there isn't a strike on.
Tell us your stories
If you've been affected by the Southern strikes and have managed to claim for consequential losses, let us know how you did it – email firstname.lastname@example.org.