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UK train firms named and shamed over late compensation

The Guardian logo The Guardian 10/01/2019 Gwyn Topham
a group of people standing around a bus: Southern is one of the GTR companies. © PA Southern is one of the GTR companies.

More than 1 million claims were filed by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) passengers seeking compensation for delayed journeys in the six months around the timetabling chaos last year.

But it has emerged that long-suffering GTR passengers have at least had their claims dealt with faster than many – with more than one in three rail companies failing to meet the target response time for complaints.

Among train operators that fail to pay compensation promptly, FirstGroup’s Hull Trains and TransPennine Express were the worst offenders in 2018, according to data published for the first time by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

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Overall, 3 million claims for compensation were sought by rail passengers in the period from April to October 2018, with about 14% of claims turned down.

Most companies have become efficient in processing claims, with 92% paid or closed within 20 working days. GTR dealt with almost all claimants within 20 days, while Greater Anglia and Southeastern also closed all their cases – more than 200,000 claims each – within the same industry target.

Claims peaked across the industry between mid-June and mid-July, with 616,000 complaints lodged in a four-week period as train operators struggled to run services following a May timetable change.

Northern received 120,000 complaints, and after initially struggling to deal with the surging numbers closed about 95% within a month.

However, TransPennine Express amassed a backlog of complaints after the timetabling fiasco, with fewer than half closed within 20 days. The company apologised for “processing issues which have now been resolved”.

All FirstGroup’s rail operations fared particularly badly: as well as TransPennine, Hull Trains, an open-access operator, dealt with 30% of its 2,600 complaints on time. Great Western, which dealt with 76% of about 100,000 complaints on time, was one of the slowest to respond last summer, after troubles with new trains and electrification works, but was closing nearly all complaints promptly by October. South Western Railway was also significantly behind target, with 70% dealt with on time.

Stephanie Tobyn, a deputy director at ORR, said: “This is the first time ORR has published data on the important area of delay compensation. Passengers have rightly made claims for these journeys and it is good to see that train companies in the main are responding to these promptly.

“ORR will be meeting with all train companies later this month to review the current timescales for compensation claims, particularly where these are below target.”

Automated delay repay schemes have been introduced by several train operators in the past few years, including C2C, for those with season tickets or smartcards, and Virgin for those pre-booking with online card payments.

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