Train delays

How to claim if it's late or cancelled

Train delays and cancellations are all too common on our railways, making them an occupational hazard for many commuters. Yet incredibly, passengers are missing out on up to £100 million every year by not claiming for these disruptions. This guide lays out your rights and provides full help on how to get your money back, including if your journey is affected by strike action.

UK rail strikes – know your refund rights

Rail services across the UK have been disrupted in recent months due to strike action.

If your train was cancelled due to the strikes, you can get a full refund, even if you have an advance ticket, and if your train was delayed due to the strikes, you can claim a partial or full refund depending on how long you were delayed and what type of ticket you have. You have 28 days to apply.

For full info on what you can do if your train was delayed or cancelled, including firm-by-firm policies, see the Train or Tube journey affected by strikes? MSE News story.


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'I claimed £315 for a year's delays' – some inspiration before you begin

It can often be tempting to let train delays slide, but make no mistake – there can be big money in reclaiming, especially for frequently delayed commuters, who can rack up £100s in a year. Take Andy, for example, who tweeted us these pictures of two years' worth of claims. In 2015 he got £315 and he usually tops at least £250 annually.

... and they may pay out even if you're not entitled

Many have reported successfully claiming even when they're not strictly entitled to a refund – the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, says firms often pay out even when they don't have to.

Some have also found that if they've had a particularly poor journey and submitted a complaint along with their delay, the amount they get has been upped or even doubled.

My train company doubled the amount of compensation after days of delays due to flooding, which was a nice surprise – and once I was sent a £50 voucher for a complaint that took months to be answered.
- MSE Megan

Train delay need-to-knows

The specific rules around train delays can appear baffling at first, especially because each individual train operator has its own refund policy (see a full list of train firms' polices below). But don't be put off – claiming's straightforward when you know how.

What's 'Delay Repay'? Throughout this guide we talk about 'Delay Repay' – the name by which the rail industry refers to the simplified compensation scheme which most firms now run. It means you can claim for delays of 15+ or 30+ mins (or in one case even 2+) regardless of cause. See more on Delay Repay below.

The following need-to-knows apply in England, Scotland and Wales (we've more on Northern Ireland below), if your train's been delayed or cancelled and you still want to travel. If you don't want to travel, see how to get a full refund.

  • hopping on another train

    If the train you're booked on is delayed you should be able to get on a later one or take a different route, though it's important to check with station staff if you're unsure, as there may be some exceptions – particularly if the alternative route is run by a different train company.

    For example, if you're travelling from London Euston to Birmingham and your train's delayed, it might be quicker to go from Marylebone instead. You won't be able to go to a different destination, but you may be able to speed up your journey by changing the route.

    If after getting a different train you still arrive 30+ minutes late you should be able to claim for a delay. Alternatively, if you've already bought your ticket but decide not to travel, see how to get a full refund below.

    Quick questions

    • If your journey is split between two different trains, and the first is delayed so you miss the second, you can wait and get the next available train (with your ticket) or, if you take alternative transport, you can get a refund for the unused part of the journey.

    • If you've treated yourself to a first-class ticket and there's no first-class facilities available on your train or replacement train, you can get a refund for the difference in price between the first-class and standard-class ticket for the relevant part of your journey. You can do this at the ticket office where you arrive.

    • Delayed trains are often busier than those running on time. Instead of squishing into the aisles like sardines, it's tempting to move into first class if there's room. However, you can only do this if the train company allows it (it'll be announced if so). If you sit in first class without permission and get caught, you might be charged a penalty.

    • Passengers stranded because of circumstances deemed to be within the control of a train company (see what that covers here) should be taken to their destination, or provided with overnight accommodation, by any train company in a position to help, if it reasonably can. Keep hold of receipts if you have to pay anything extra.

      In practice, if a train isn't able to take passengers onto their destination, taxis are normally provided at no cost.

  • 30 min delay

    When determining how long the delay was, what counts is when you GET to your destination, not when the train LEFT.

    You'll need to claim from the train company which was running the delayed service, even if you booked via a different site, within 28 days of the delay.

    The type of delay you can claim for depends on whether the train company runs a Delay Repay scheme (which means it pays out regardless of whether the delay was its fault), or a less-generous old-style compensation scheme.

    • Under Delay Repay you get compensation for delays regardless of fault

      The majority of train companies now operate the Delay Repay system, and while the original threshold for claiming was a delay of 30+ minutes, most firms that run Delay Repay now use the threshold of 15+ minutes. Here are all the companies that operate Delay Repay and what threshold they use:

      • c2c (15-minute Delay Repay, two-minute Automatic Delay Repay for smartcard holders)
      • Caledonian Sleeper (30-minute Delay Repay)
      • CrossCountry (30-minute Delay Repay)
      • East Midlands Trains (30-minute Delay Repay)
      • Gatwick Express (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • Greater Anglia (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • Great Northern (15-minute Delay Repay, 15-minute Auto Delay Repay for smartcard holders)
      • Great Western Railway (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • Island Line (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • London North East Railway (30-minute Delay Repay)
      • London Northwestern Railway (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • Northern (15-minute Delay Repay, 15-minute Automatic Delay Repay with advance tickets booked online via Northern)
      • ScotRail (30-minute Delay Repay)
      • Southeastern (30-minute Delay Repay)
      • Southern (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • South Western Railway (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • Stansted Express (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • Thameslink (15-minute Delay Repay, 15-minute Auto Delay Repay for smartcard holders)
      • TransPennine Express (30-minute Delay Repay)
      • Transport for Wales Rail (15-minute Delay Repay)
      • Virgin Trains (30-minute Delay Repay, 30-minute Automatic Delay Repay with advance tickets booked online via Virgin Trains for journeys that took place entirely on the Virgin Trains network)
      • West Midlands Railway (15-minute Delay Repay)

    See the table below for the minimum refund you'll get.

    • For other firms without Delay Repay it depends on their rules – a few only let you claim for 60+ minutes delays if it's their fault, most are more generous.

      Firms including Chiltern, Eurostar, Grand Central, Heathrow Express, Hull Trains, London Overground, Merseyrail and TfL Rail aren't on Delay Repay schemes. With these firms, the rules are less clear-cut, so it's important to check the full list of train firms' policies below.

      The bare minimum that train companies have to do is set out in the National Rail Conditions of Travel, which detail train travellers' rights and where those rights may be restricted. Firms only have to start paying out for delays of at least an hour, and only if the delay was their fault.

    • The following problems are deemed to be within the train company's control, even though some of these may be down to Network Rail. These issues mean you WILL be able to claim for any resulting delay:

      • Failure of points (sections of track that move at junctions).
      • Signal power failure.
      • Track circuit failure.
      • Telecoms failure.
      • Overhead line problems.
      • Buckled or broken railway tracks.
      Here's what isn't considered within the train company's control – with these, the rules say you WON'T be able to claim (though some companies may still let you):
      • Acts or threats of vandalism or terrorism.
      • Suicides or accidents involving trespassers.
      • Gas leaks or fires in line-side buildings (assuming it wasn't the fault of a train or rail service company or its staff).
      • Line closures at the request of police or emergency services.
      • Exceptionally severe weather conditions, as decided by the train operator. (If weather conditions aren't "exceptionally severe" and you're delayed, you should be able to get a refund although this is a grey area. It's not listed in the train company rules so therefore it's worth putting in a claim to see what you can get.)
      • Riots or civil commotion.
      • Fire, mechanical or electrical failure or a defect (except where this is caused by a train company or its staff, or as a result of the condition of a company's trains).

    It's important to note that these rules set out the bare minimum, and most companies which don't offer Delay Repay will still give you more than national rules stipulate.

    Use a clever tool to check how long you were delayed for

    If you need to double-check the length of a recent delay in order to claim, you can try using the nifty Recent Train Times website. It gets its data from Network Rail (though this doesn't necessarily mean the train firm will agree) for routes in England, Scotland and Wales (though it doesn't cover London Underground).

    Its data goes back three months, but remember you need to claim for delays within 28 days.

    Simply select the stations you were travelling between, when you want data for and in the arrival time box, 'average and actual times'. It'll then show you when trains running then actually arrived. Watch our video for more.

  • 50% fair refund

    Most firms that use Delay Repay now offer 25% of the fare (or fare for that leg of the journey if you have a return ticket) back for delays of between 15 and 29 minutes. With those that use 30-minute Delay Repay or the old-style compensation, the minimum you should usually get back for a valid delay is 50%.

    With a couple of companies that don't use Delay Repay, you'll need to be delayed for an hour or more before compensation kicks in.

    Here's the minimum you'll get for a company which uses Delay Repay (see the full list above of those which do):

    The minimum you'll get with Delay Repay

    15-29 mins 25% of single fare back (1)
    30-59 mins 50% of single fare back
    60-119 mins 100% of single fare back
    120+ mins 100% of single or return fare back
    Season tickets 
    (15-29 mins)
    Proportionate: 1/40th of weekly ticket, 1/160th of monthly ticket, or 1/1856th of annual ticket(1)
    Season tickets 
    (30-59 mins)
    Proportionate: 1/20th of weekly ticket, 1/80th of monthly ticket, or 1/928th of annual ticket
    Season tickets 
    (60+ mins)
    Proportionate: 1/10th of weekly ticket, 1/40th of monthly ticket, or 1/464th of annual ticket

    (1) Currently only available on c2c, Gatwick Express, Greater Anglia, Great Northern, Great Western Railway, Island Line, London Northwestern Railway, Northern, Southern, South Western Railway, Stansted Express, Thameslink, Transport for Wales Rail and West Midlands Railway.

    If the train company's not using a Delay Repay scheme, the bare minimum it has to offer according to the National Rail Conditions of Travel is set out in this table.

    The minimum refund you'll get without Delay Repay

    Single ticket 50% of the fare back
    Return ticket with delay on either outward or return journey 50% of the relevant portion of the fare back
    Return ticket with delay on both outward and return journey 50% of the fare back
    Season ticket Depends on firm's passenger charter

    Remember though, most of those that don't do Delay Repay will still offer more than the minimum, so see the full list of train firms' polices for details.

  • If your train's delayed it's usually possible to claim regardless of whether you've an advance, off-peak or season ticket.

    The amount you'll get will be a percentage of how much you paid for the original ticket, and for most season ticket holders this will be worked out as a proportion of their weekly, monthly or annual ticket cost.

    There's one exception though – some season ticket holders who travel with a firm that uses the old-style compensation scheme can't claim for individual delays, and instead will automatically get money off for overall poor performance throughout the year, when they renew their season ticket. Check your train company's policy for more details.

  • The National Rail Conditions of Travel, which set the minimum standards that train companies must abide by, say passengers must be offered at least one form of monetary compensation for a delay. This could include a bank transfer, cheque or refund to your card, although companies can still offer rail vouchers as well.

    Where the delay was caused by the train company you also have the additional right to ask for a refund via your original payment method.

  • no seats available

    Passengers have another string to their bow if they suffer shoddy service when on the trains. Since October 2016, the Consumer Rights Act has applied to the rail industry, meaning you have more rights if things go wrong – but this is relatively untested so there's no guarantee of success.

    In a nutshell, this means your train company should provide its service with "reasonable care and skill" – and if you've bought a ticket since 1 October 2016 and think the firm's failed to do this, you can complain and quote the Consumer Rights Act.

    This opens up the possibility of a broader range of claims than was previously allowed under the passenger charter and Delay Repay schemes – it could include complaints such as lack of seating, broken toilets or more minor delays. Info you're given about a service by the train company should be binding too – eg, if it promised you Wi-Fi for the entire journey but didn't deliver, you could have a claim. To try this:

    • Contact the train company directly and quote the Consumer Rights Act. If you're arguing about poor service, quote the relevant section of the act (likely to be Section 49 – 'reasonable care and skill'). Explain what you're asking for (ie, a new ticket or a refund) and include any evidence or additional information you think is needed, such as pictures or tweets about the issue.

    • If the company refuses your claim... or it hasn't been resolved within eight weeks you may be able to escalate it to the Rail Ombudsman, a free, independent body that can investigate complaints and award compensation.

    • If your claim's still turned down, your only option is going to court. This would probably be the small claims court, but you'll have to weigh up whether it's worth it. See our Small Claims Court guide for more info.

    It's worth noting too that the law only covers situations that are within the train company's control – and currently there's no clear definition of what exactly "reasonable care and skill" means.

    But while this is relatively uncharted territory and we haven't seen many successes yet, some are now having luck with this kind of complaint – eg, Marjorie emailed: "Complained about a member of staff and was given an open first-class ticket."

    Quick question

    • Under the Consumer Rights Act you can ask for:

      • A repeat 'performance' (ie, journey) if the service didn't match up to what was said or written. This may not be possible though if your ticket was for a specific time and date.

      • A price reduction, including a refund of up to the full price of the ticket.

      If you're given a refund, the company has 14 days from the date of agreeing to pay to refund you via your original payment method (unless you agree otherwise), and it can't charge you any fee or admin charge for this.

  • A disgruntled Southern Rail commuter who successfully used credit card protection to claim back half his season ticket cost after poor service was all over the news a few years ago.

    Card provider American Express agreed to the commuter's claim, which argued that as 50% of his trains had been delayed or cancelled he wanted a partial refund. See the Southern Rail passenger gets £2,400 refund MSE News story for more.

    Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, if you buy something costing between £100 and £30,000 and pay for it in part, or in full, with your credit card, your card provider's jointly liable with the retailer if something goes wrong.

    If you paid via debit card, there's an alternative scheme, chargeback, which asks for money from the supplier's (in this case the train company's) bank. Chargeback's a customer service promise, not a legal requirement though, and claims must usually be submitted within 120 days.

    Banks can sometimes choose to pay out via the chargeback scheme, even if you originally submitted a Section 75 claim, and it's not entirely clear if that's what happened in this case. Either way, if you paid on a credit card, try making a Section 75 claim first, as it's more powerful protection.

    • Technically the rules say you can't submit a Section 75 claim if you've already claimed compensation by another route. However this is untested, so it could still be worth submitting a claim even if you've had compensation for individual delays from your train company. Here's what to try:

      1. Gather evidence. The stronger the evidence of the amount of delays you have, the better. The Office of Rail and Road has train delay data back to 2010, and your train company should have some data on its site.
      2. Work out how much you're asking for. The commuter requested a 50% refund because that's the proportion of his trains that were delayed, so you could follow this model.
      3. Contact your credit card provider. Ask for a Section 75 claim form. You may need to explain why you want to claim – use our Section 75 refunds guide for help.
      4. Submit your claim with all your evidence. Include every scrap of evidence.
      5. If refused, you can appeal. The Financial Ombudsman can overrule the decision. For how to appeal see our Section 75 guide.

      The method is similar for a debit card claim, but you must have tried to claim from the rail firm first. And if that fails you need to call your bank card provider and say you want to dispute the transaction. See our Chargeback guide for more info.

  • Most season ticket holders (who've bought a month's or more travel) will be able to claim for individual delays, although some unlucky ones can't – see the full list of train firms' polices below.

    However those with a monthly or annual season ticket may also be able to claim free travel or a discount when they renew their ticket, if they've experienced what is known as 'sustained poor performance'. For example, MSE's former editor-in-chief Jason got £100+ from South Western Railway.

    The exact definition of this varies by train company (check below), but it's usually defined as something like 12 delay claims in a period of 20 working days, or if overall punctuality falls below a certain target.

    If you think you may be eligible to claim, you can check train delay data for the past three months using the Recent Train Times tool, or if you need to go back further you can use the Office of Rail and Road tool (but it can be a bit clunky).

    Some firms will automatically offer the discount if you renew your ticket within a certain number of days, but for others you will need to contact customer services. Contact your train company if unsure.

  • Don't think a strike means the company won't pay out if you face a delay. If the company operates a Delay Repay scheme, and you're delayed at least 15 minutes (though it can vary by train firm), it'll pay out regardless of what caused the delay.

    It's worth noting though that TfL doesn't pay out for delays caused by strike action.

  • The National Rail Conditions of Travel state that in the event of train delay or cancellation, you can only recover up to the price of your ticket – so in theory, the firm won't refund you if you've wasted theatre tickets or missed a flight. But the conditions do say that companies will consider exceptional circumstances.

    So it could be worth trying to claim anyway, or explaining what happened to the company running the event you were visiting to see if it can help. You could also see if you're covered under travel insurance if you're on holiday.

  • Train delay refunds in Northern Ireland are handled differently to in the rest of the UK. The National Rail Conditions of Travel don't apply here (though the Section 75 and Consumer Rights Act rules do).

    Confusingly Translink, which runs NI Railways, offers its own 'Delay Repay' scheme, but it doesn't work the same way it does in England, Scotland and Wales.

    Although the thresholds for delays are pretty much the same, compensation is paid in vouchers and you won't have the option of claiming cash instead. Crucially, you also CAN'T claim regardless of cause – Translink won't pay out if the delay is caused by security alerts, crime, extreme weather or anything outside its control.

    See the Translink refund policy below for more information.

Don't want to travel? Get a full refund

If your train's delayed or cancelled and you decide NOT to travel, the rules are much simpler (unless you're a season ticket holder):

If, after you've bought your ticket, you find your journey is going to be delayed (by any amount of time) or cancelled, you can ask for a full refund if you don't want to travel.

It's important to note that so long as you're not travelling on a season ticket, this rule applies even if your train's delayed only by a couple of minutes and you decide not to travel. Point 30.1 of the National Rail Conditions of Travel says:

If the train you intended to use is cancelled, delayed, or your reservation will not be honoured, and you decide not to travel, you may return the unused ticket to the original retailer or train company from whom it was purchased, where you will be given a full refund with no administration fee being charged.

To get a refund for your unused ticket, you can head to a ticket office, call the train company or fill out a form online.

        The rules are different for season ticket holders

Unfortunately with a season ticket you've fewer rights if your train's cancelled – you can't just decide not to travel and get a full refund. That's because your ticket isn't for a specific time and so it's assumed you'd be able to get on the next available train, though of course if you do that and end up being significantly delayed you can still claim. Check your train company's policy for full details.

A small number of companies, such as Chiltern Railways, which still operate the old-style passenger-charter compensation, may declare a "void day" in cases of serious disruption, which may mean you get a discount on your next season ticket.

Quick questions

  • What if I booked via a third-party website?

    If you booked your tickets on a third-party website, such as RedSpottedHanky, you'll need to send your tickets back to it. (You have to do this within a certain timeframe. Usually you have 28 days to send your claim in and it'll take up to a further 28 days to be processed, but check the policy of the train company in question.)

  • What if I'm halfway through my journey?

    If you've used any part of the ticket, you'll get less back. Check with the individual company exactly how much you can reclaim.

  • What if I'm travelling on an open ticket and my train's cancelled?

    Whether you're travelling on an advance, off-peak or anytime ticket, if a train you're due to travel on is cancelled or delayed and you decide not to travel, you can still get a refund. (The only exception is season tickets.)

  • What if I'm stranded? Is the train company obliged to help out?

    Passengers stranded because of circumstances deemed to be within the control of a train company (see what that covers here) should be taken to their destination, or provided with overnight accommodation, by any train company in a position to help, if it reasonably can. Keep hold of receipts if you have to pay anything extra.

    In practice, if a train isn't able to take passengers onto their destination, taxis are normally provided at no cost.

  • If I take another form of transport because my train's cancelled, will the train firm pay?

    Almost certainly not. If your train's cancelled you'll be able to reclaim the cost of your train ticket. But if you choose to travel by another form of transport instead, the train company's highly unlikely to pick up the tab for that too.

    The train company may however provide a 'rail replacement service' such as a bus or taxi, which you would not expect to pay for.

    As a general rule, if you're stuck because of delays, always check with the train company what alternative transport or routes you can use for free to get to your destination.

  • The trains are running fine, but I've now decided not to travel. What are my options?

    If there are no problems with the trains and you simply decide not to travel because you've changed your plans – let's say you book tickets in advance for a day by the seaside and the weather's horrendous – you can sometimes get a refund, but it depends on your ticket. 'Super Advance' tickets, for example, are normally non-refundable in this situation.

    Some train companies also charge a £10 admin fee for refunds when you choose not to travel (though this won't apply if the train was cancelled or delays meant you didn't get it).

How to claim in less than five minutes

make a claim in less than 5 minutes

While the rules around refunds for train delays are complicated, submitting your claim is straightforward and quick to do. Just follow these five steps:

  1. Look up the train company running the service and find out how much you can get back. (See below for individual firms' policies.)

  2. Make a note of the delay and the reason for it (if you can't remember the length of the delay, use the Recent Train Times tool). Fill in the claim form – you can find it online (see a list of firms' websites below) or request one from the station or by phone.

  3. Keep hold of your tickets – you'll need to take a photo of them or scan them if applying online or post them to the train company if claiming that way.

  4. Apply within the time limit of 28 days.

  5. If you're rejected for compensation or a refund but still think you have a case, complain – see more on what to do if your claim's rejected, including going to the watchdog Transport Focus, below.

Most season ticket holders can claim for individual delays, but the rules vary and it's also worth checking if you can claim for continual delays. See season ticket rules.

Quick questions

  • I've heard some companies give compensation automatically, do I need to do anything?

    Some train companies are starting to offer automatic compensation payments when you're delayed. c2c for example automatically pays smartcard holders for delays of between two and 29 minutes, while Virgin pays compensation to those who booked an advance ticket on its west coast route, via its website or app, for delays of 30 mins or more, without them having to ask.

    More companies are due to start offering automatic compensation soon, but it's always worth checking the money paid matches what you were owed for a delay.

  • What if I've lost my ticket?

    If you do lose your ticket, the next best thing is proof of purchase – preferably a receipt for the ticket. Failing that, you could try a booking number if you booked online or a credit card statement if you bought the ticket on plastic. There are no guarantees you'll be successful without the ticket, but according to rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road, virtually all train companies will accept alternative proof.

  • Can I claim if I used an Oyster card?

    Yep. Whether you've travelled on National Rail using pay as you go or a travelcard on an Oyster card, you're able to claim compensation for delays and cancellations according to the relevant firm's policy, the same as paper ticket holders.

    To do this you will need to include a copy of your journey history with your claim, which you can get from any London Underground station, any London Overground station or any Oyster ticket stop. If your Oyster card is registered you can also get this online by logging into your account on the TfL website.

  • How can I keep my ticket to claim a refund if I need to hand it in at my arrival station?

    Just let the staff at the ticket barrier know that you need to keep your ticket to claim on it – if a ticket inspector hasn't done it already, they'll date-stamp it to show it's been used. 

  • Can't I just return my tickets at the station for a refund?

    If it's a refund for a cancelled train, you should be able to get a refund at the station and it'll be paid back to you in the way you paid for it – so if you paid in cash, you'll get cash back. But if you want a refund for a delay, you'll need to apply for one and it'll take up to 28 days.

  • I've bought my tickets online and haven't picked them up yet. How can I claim?

    If you've not yet got your tickets and you're collecting them from the station, you'll still be able to claim. It might be your train has been cancelled and you don't bother picking up the tickets. Or it might have been delayed and you decide to drive instead. You'll be able to get a refund by using your booking reference.

  • What if the ticket's from a third-party website?

    It's a slightly different story if you buy tickets via a third-party website such as RedSpottedHanky or Trainline*.

    For delays, you'll need to contact the train company you travelled with. Though if your train was cancelled and you're after a refund for an unused ticket, go back to the third party you bought your ticket from. It will usually handle the refund for the unused ticket and you should get a full refund as you would if you'd gone to the train company directly (always check the small print).

    You'll need to print and fill out a form from the relevant website and send this along with the original tickets. Watch out for admin fees though. RedSpottedHanky charges £10, while Trainline doesn't charge admin fees, but won't refund booking and card fees.

  • Are train delay apps worth it?

    There are a number of apps out there which promise to help you claim for delays – but they often charge a monthly fee or take a cut of the compensation you receive.

    They generally ask you to upload a picture of your ticket and add a few details so they can then fill in the train company's form for you.

    Claiming for train delays is free and straightforward so you shouldn't need to use paid-for apps, but some say they find them useful as they streamline the process and help them get money back for delays they otherwise wouldn't bother to claim for. So you have to decide if you think they're worth it.

    We currently have little feedback on train delay apps so please let us know what you think in the Train delays forum thread if you decide to use one.

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Refund policies by train company

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Claim rejected? What to do next

Man shouting into a telephone

If you're unhappy with how your application for individual delay compensation has been handled, you must complain directly to the train company in the first instance.

You can do this by using the free online complaints tool Resolver*, which will help you draft, track and manage your complaint. It will also escalate it if you're unhappy with the response. 

Or you can download our template letter, which you can then adapt accordingly and post or email to the train company.  

No luck? Check if you can escalate to the Rail Ombudsman

If you've sent a letter of complaint to a rail firm, and you're either unhappy with the final response you get (sometimes known as a 'deadlock letter') or your complaint hasn't been resolved within eight weeks of the firm receiving it, you can go to the Rail Ombudsman.

Travel on London Underground, Overground or TfL Rail? You'll need to escalate your complaint to independent watchdog London TravelWatch instead. You can check its map to see if your journey falls within the area it covers.

Here's how to escalate your complaint to the Rail Ombudsman:

  1. Check the Rail Ombudsman can deal with your complaint. The Rail Ombudsman will only consider complaints about things that have happened since it was launched on 26 November 2018.

    It will consider complaints about service, such as delays and cancellations, lack of reserved seating and toilets being out of use. For the full list, see below.

  2. How to complain. You can escalate your complaint online, or attach an application form to an email or post it to 'Freepost Rail Ombudsman'.

    When you escalate a complaint to the Rail Ombudsman, it will ask you to explain what happened and what you would like the rail firm to do. Depending on the nature of your complaint, it may also ask you to include evidence such as letters, tickets and receipts.

Quick questions

  • Which complaints are covered by the Rail Ombudsman?

    • Delays and cancellations.
    • Customer service.
    • Safety issues, eg, overcrowding.
    • Info given about journeys or engineering works.
    • Availability and accessibility of facilities in stations including announcements, cycle storage, escalators, lifts, lost property, parking, ticket sales, toilets and waiting rooms.
    • The quality of facilities and services available on a train including air-conditioning, announcements, food and drink, heating, information, priority bookings, reserved seats, toilets and Wi-Fi.
    • Passenger assistance, facilities for passengers with disabilities, and discrimination or issues arising under the Equality Act 2010.
  • Which complaints aren't covered by the Rail Ombudsman?

    • Public policy on transport, privatisation or how the rail industry is run.
    • Strikes.
    • How a railway line affects your home.
    • Penalty fare or parking fine appeals.
    • Complaints relating to the outcome of staff disciplinary action.
    • Complaints that have been dealt with already or which are being investigated by another body, such as the courts.
    • Issues outside the control of the rail firm concerned.
    • Complaints where you have already accepted a decision or offer made by the rail firm concerned.
    • Claims for business losses.
    • Claims for more than £2,500 in compensation.
    • Events that took place before the Rail Ombudsman service was established on 26 November 2019.
  • How I do escalate a complaint in Northern Ireland?

    The Rail Ombudsman covers England, Wales and Scotland, but not Northern Ireland. To complain there, first go to Translink, the company that operates NI Railways. If you're not happy with the response, you can escalate your complaint to the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland via online or 0800 121 6022.

Rail Ombudsman can't help? Try Transport Focus

If your complaint falls outside of those covered by the Rail Ombudsman, eg, it's about rail industry policy or a rail ticket retailer, try independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus.

It says it will do its best to help resolve your complaint, even if it has to pass it to another organisation it believes is better able to handle it. However, it's not an ombudsman, and has no actual power to force train companies to do anything.

Transport Focus also publishes passenger satisfaction survey results, so you can see what your fellow passengers think of your train company.

Use social media to shame the firm into action

Social media can be a good tool for getting in contact with a train company if other channels aren't working, and you might be able to use it to shame it into a response, or even get some money back – MSE Kelvin got a £50 refund by using Twitter.

Several MoneySavers have told us they use Twitter to give feedback to train companies, as well as to get up-to-date travel info. It's also a good way of finding out if other passengers have similar complaints and what course of action they're taking to get them resolved.

The train brakes "dropped" after a bang and a group of us clubbed together online to obtain a refund for the one-hour delay.
- Nick

@eastcoastuk were very helpful when there were probs with a trip to Leeds & advised me.
- Wendy

I always get a very prompt (and pretty helpful) response from Northern Rail.
- Jacqueline

All else failed? You could try going to court – but only in extreme cases

If you're still not able to resolve your complaint, the only other avenue open to you is the small claims court. But this is only for exceptionally rare circumstances – in fact, we've never heard any examples of passengers going down this route, and neither has Transport Focus.

For more info – including likely costs – see our Small Claims Court guide. If you do have success with this route, please let us know.

Have you used this guide to claim for a train delay? 

Please give us feedback and suggest improvements in the Train delays forum thread.

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