Derek Mitchell, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, and thus no slouch when it comes to consumers' rights, had an article in the Sunday Herald on 5 August. He described the cancellation at the last minute, and with no prior warning, of a budget airline flight from London to Edinburgh. A month later he still hadn't received even an acknowledgement of his compensation claim, while another passenger had had his rejected.
At least Train Operating Companies (TOCs) have improved their act considerably in the last few months. Now a Delay Repay (DR) mechanism is in place on ScotRail and other TOCs, and the time at which compensation kicks in is now commonly only 15 minutes, with a full refund of the ticket price being made after a delay of 60 minutes. Compensation, which used to be by means of a voucher for use within a year, is now routinely paid directly to a bank account or credit card. We applaud this, and think it high time the airlines copied it.
However the real issue lies deeper. With the possible exception of train nuts like the present writer, most passengers travel as a means to an end: a connection, or an appointment of some kind whether business or pleasure. That a delayed train disrupts those plans is outwith the railway's responsibility to offer compensation. It should not be so. In the case Derek Mitchell encountered no alternative flight was offered for over 24 hours, necessitating an unplanned overnight stay at very short notice, and the probable loss of onward travel tickets. Consequential loss at the hands of a transport operator must be the subject of compensation. It would need legislation to impose such a duty on an operator. We should mount a campaign to bring this about.
When you buy a ticket to travel on the rail network you enter into a binding contract with the TOC. The National Rail Conditions of Carriage (NRCoC) set out the rights and obligations of passengers and the TOC. For claims made under the NRCoC arrangements for losses caused by the delay and/or cancellation of a train service, you can only recover up to the price of your ticket. However, the latest version of the NRCoC makes reference to the Consumer Rights Act (CRA) 2015 that provides consumers with various rights, specifically rights where a service is not performed with reasonable care and skill. This effectively says
In most instances it will still be easier to use the industry mechanism to claim for a delay as DR is paid irrespective of cause, while a claim under the CRA would require you to demonstrate fault on their part and potentially to take them to court. What this change does is to tell you that this right exists. In the past the Conditions have either excluded any liability for consequential loss or have severely limited it to "exceptional circumstances". There was no mention of you having the option of taking them to court. Exercising these statutory rights would involve you bringing a legal claim.
Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Transport Focus, the consumer rights body for rail passengers, added this: "We are pushing for a more comprehensive review of the NRCoC - a cover-to-cover review of all the terms. This will give us the opportunity to raise many of the issues that come up through our complaints process."