Long-suffering Southern rail passengers will be among the first in the UK to benefit from a new Government scheme that will force firms to pay out if a train is more than 15 minutes late – but the scheme won't be rolled out across the country until at least 2020.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has today unveiled its 'Delay Repay 15' compensation scheme, which means certain passengers will soon be able to claim 25% of the cost of a single fare for delays of between 15 and 29 minutes. Currently the starting point for compensation with most companies is 30 minutes, though a few only offer it for delays of an hour or more (the minimum legal requirement).

Season ticket holders will also be compensated for delays of more than 15 minutes, though compensation will be based on the value of the journey affected as a proportion of price of the season ticket. See our Train Delays guide for more on how to claim if your train was delayed or cancelled.

When will compensation for 15-minute delays start?

The scheme will be introduced on Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) services within "months" – there's no precise launch date yet. GTR runs the Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express services.

However, the DfT says it could be four years before all rail firms offer the new scheme. That's because DfT has decided to force rail companies to offer compensation for delays of 15 minutes or more by writing it into their franchise contracts.

A DfT spokesperson told us its intention is for the Delay Repay 15 scheme to be "built into every franchise's contract" by 2020 (the end of the current Parliament), although in some cases it is years before contracts are up for renewal – meaning the Government may struggle to force some companies to adopt the scheme in that timescale. The new South Western, West Midlands and South Eastern franchises will be next to adopt the scheme.

The launch of Delay Repay 15 comes hot on the heels of the extension of the Consumer Rights Act, which could allow train passengers to claim a refund for a range of issues with poor service (other than just delays) – such as overcrowding, broken loos and a lack of Wi-Fi on certain journeys.

Doesn't a Delay Repay scheme already exist?

Yes it does – Delay Repay 15 is essentially an extension of the current Delay Repay initiative, which most train operators run. It means you can claim for delays of 30 minutes or more regardless of cause.

The DfT has told us that, like Delay Repay 15, complying with the wider Delay Repay scheme will become compulsory for rail franchises once they renew their existing contracts.

The vast majority of train companies already operate the Delay Repay system – see a full list in the Train Delays guide.

How will Delay Repay 15 work alongside the existing scheme?

The existing thresholds for claiming compensation under the Delay Repay scheme are:

  • 50% of a single fare (or 25% of a return fare) for delays of 30 to 59 minutes
  • 100% of a single fare (or 50% of a return fare) for delays of 60 minutes or more
  • 100% of a return fare for delays of two hours or more

What Delay Repay 15 will do is also allow passengers who have been delayed for between 15 and 29 minutes to claim 25% of the cost of a single fare (or 12.5% of a return fare). You'll have to claim and compensation will be paid in the same way it is currently – see the Train Delays guide for full details.

Compensation to be made compulsory for train delays of over 15 minutes
Delay Repay 15 is on track to be introduced on Govia Thameslink Railway services in the coming months

Can I claim under Delay Repay 15 if I've got a season ticket?

Yes, you can. If you've got a season ticket the DfT says you'll be able to claim for individual delays as you would if you had a daily ticket. Your compensation will be worked out on a 'formula basis', which basically means the train operator will look at the price of the season ticket and work out the value of the journey affected as a proportion of this.

A compensation lump sum will then be paid when your season ticket is up for renewal (although the DfT tells us this approach may differ slightly depending on train operator).

Whether you'll have to proactively claim for season ticket compensation, or whether it'll be paid automatically, will be determined by individual train operators.

A DfT spokesperson told us that more operators are beginning to offer automatic compensation payments and that the new franchise operators of East Anglia, Transpennine Express and Northern will be offering automatic compensation next year.

If you've got a weekly season ticket, the DfT says you'll be able to claim for individual delays as you would if you had a daily ticket, although the compensation you receive will be worked out based on a fifth of the price of your weekly ticket (representing the five working days).

What does the DfT say?

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says: "We recognise that, above all else, passengers want a reliable train service, but when things do go wrong it is vital that they are compensated fairly. 'Delay Repay 15' is a major improvement for passengers and we are working with train companies to make it as easy as possible for passengers to claim their rightful compensation.

"Together with the Consumer Rights Act, this policy shows we are putting passengers first and making sure they receive due compensation for poor service."