The rail regulator has called for train companies to do more to ensure those hit by delays receive refunds, after its investigation found passengers fail to claim for 80% of delays, while train and station staff give out wrong compensation info more than two thirds of the time.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) found there are significant barriers to passengers being able to easily claim for delays and cancellations, including claims forms not being downloadable or handed out during delays, some passengers needing to keep their original train tickets to claim, and some firms being reluctant to tell passengers they can claim.

Here are the full details on what the regulator's investigation found and what to do if your train's been delayed or cancelled – see our Train Delays guide for more help.

What prompted the investigation?

The regulator's investigation follows a 'super-complaint' by the consumer group Which? in December. It formally requested an investigation into how passengers are compensated for delayed and cancelled journeys, and called for the refund process to be made much simpler.

Certain bodies designated by the Government have the special status to make a 'super-complaint' if they believe a market is failing consumers. The ORR, which had to respond to the complaint within 90 days, met with passengers groups, train companies and the Department for Transport to carry out wide-ranging research.

What were the key findings?

The ORR looked at lots of different factors, including how clearly compensation is signposted on websites, whether information is readily available at stations and what puts passengers off claiming. It found:

  • Passengers don't claim for around 80% of delayed train journeys where they would normally be entitled to compensation. To get this figure, the ORR looked at the number of delays and total compensation claimed and crunched the numbers. It warns there are some gaps in the data but says the findings match those of other organisations, which have estimated compensation is claimed between 9% and 34% of the time.
  • Staff at stations and on trains give out wrong information 70% of the time. The ORR carried out 392 "mystery shopping" trips across the country to review 22 train companies. Staff were asked to explain how long delays had to be to claim, how much compensation passengers can get, whether it can be claimed as cash, and how to claim – only 30% of the mystery shoppers were given correct answers to all four questions.

    Staff at three train firms failed to provide accurate info every time. The ORR says it has contacted the individual train companies to improve this, and will carry out more mystery shopping trips to check whether they have.
  • Train companies are failing to promote passengers' right to a refund. The ORR says there's no evidence firms are deliberately hiding compensation information or making it difficult to claim, but some companies fear promoting compensation will undermine their message to passengers about their commitment to good performance.

    One unnamed train company even told the ORR it was not in its best interests to promote compensation, as it cost the company and didn't improve performance, which was the leading driver of passenger satisfaction.

What's the regulator doing to improve things?

The ORR's made a series of recommendations:

  • It's called for a coordinated national campaign by train companies in the autumn to raise awareness of passengers' right to compensation following delays.
  • It's recommended that claims forms are made clearer and that staff are given better training in this area.
  • It's said the Department for Transport should ensure all future franchise agreements stipulate that passengers are told of their rights at the time of delay, such as by announcements on the platform or being handed compensation forms. Franchise agreements are the legally binding contracts between the Secretary of State for Transport, the franchisee (the owning group) and the franchise operator (the train company).
  • The ORR, which licenses the passenger train companies, will also make clearly explaining compensation rights a condition of each company's licence as they are renewed, though no specific targets have yet been set.

The ORR is planning further research and mystery shopping following this investigation, and expects to publish an interim report in December on what improvements have been made.

Passengers don't claim for 80% of train delays – here's how you can
Passengers don't claim for 80% of train delays – here's how you can

What do the train firms say?

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, says: "We're committed to making claiming compensation simpler and clearer. More people are receiving cash compensation as train companies continue to pay out more and make it easier to claim. The rail regulator acknowledges that the amount paid in compensation is relatively high.

"There is always room for improvement and we know that we can do more to give our customers an even better deal. We will address all of the regulator's recommendations."

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 rules 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 you get varies by company but you can now opt for cash rather than rail vouchers, whichever the company.

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

  • Keep hold of your tickets – you'll need to post them to the train company or scan them if applying online (it's much easier to claim with the original ticket).
  • Look up your train company and find out how much you can get back. (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.