Two-thirds of rail passengers are still missing out on compensation for train delays, and more than half are unaware a claim is possible, new research has found.

Independent watchdog Transport Focus is calling for improvements to the train delay compensation schemes, and more automatic repayments, following the results of its survey of 7,000 passengers.

The results show more than half (57%) of passengers didn't know they could claim, while a further seven per cent chose not to claim as they believed it was too much hassle, not worth the effort, or too complicated.

What prompted the survey and what were the findings?

The research formed part of the Department for Transport's response to the Office of Rail and Road's investigation into delays and cancellations earlier this year, which itself was prompted by a super-complaint from Which? See the MSE news story for more information.

It also follows Transport Focus's previous survey of about 500 passengers in 2013, which found just 12% of eligible passengers were claiming for delays, compared to 35% in this week's result.

Transport Focus carried out the research in March, and found 3,500 passengers who had been delayed more than 30 minutes in the previous six months.

Its key findings were:

  • 35% of eligible passengers claimed for their delay or received automatic compensation
  • 64% of eligible passengers didn't claim for their most recent delay, and of those 57% didn't realise they could
  • 70% of passengers correctly identified 30 minutes as the minimum threshold for delay compensation
  • 66% of passengers believe they should be paid more than 50% of a ticket cost for a delay of 30 minutes
  • 38% are satisfied they are told of their right to compensation, whereas 26% are very dissatisfied

It has pledged to repeat this research when the Delay Repay threshold is reduced to 15 minutes. See the MSE Compensation to be made compulsory for train delays of over 15 minutes news story.

What were the recommendations?

Transport Focus has called for:

  • The compensation process to be quicker and easier, with choices about how to claim and receive the payment
  • Train operators to continue to promote how and when passengers can claim money back for delayed journey
  • More automatic compensation schemes (only Virgin West Coast and c2c offer this at the moment)

Chief executive Anthony Smith said: "The rail industry has made some improvements in telling passengers what they are due after delays – but they still have a way to go."

What does this mean for passengers?

Hopefully, with calls from the rail minister, consumer groups and the Office of Rail and Road for improvements, there will be progress for passengers. There have already been moves to improve the situation for passengers, including:

  • Companies having to offer cash compensation rather than just rail vouchers
  • All new franchises to include the Delay Repay scheme, which sets out minimum compensation levels for all delays, regardless of whether the delay is the train company's fault
  • A Government pledge that the current 30 minute Delay Repay threshold will drop to 15 minutes by 2020
  • A clear explanation of compensation rights should be a condition of each company's licence as they are renewed
  • A national publicity campaign launched in October to boost delay compensation awareness
  • The introduction of automatic compensation on some routes

Latest figures show in 2014/15 train companies paid out £25.6million in compensation, compared to £22.6million the year before.

To date this year, £35.8million has already been paid out, which rises to £44.9 million if a further six companies which are not currently doing the Delay Repay system are taken into account.

But as both the Transport Focus and ORR reports have suggested, more needs to be done to ensure passengers are claiming for their delays.

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: "We have been working with partners in the rail industry to ensure passengers are aware of their right to recompense for disruption and, at the same time, we are making the claim process simpler and swifter so that it is easier and more attractive to apply."

Two-thirds of passengers are missing out on rail delay compensation – here's how you can claim
Two-thirds of passengers are missing out on rail delay compensation - here's how you can claim

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.