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Case studies

Transport Focus deals with over 2600 appeal complaints each year. Read more about some of the times we have been able to help passengers successfully resolve their case.

Click here to see some older case studies.

Mrs J is a Southeastern season ticket holder and was recently diagnosed with arthritis. She reduced her working week from five days to two and has a medical note from her doctor.

Mrs J contacted Southeastern to ask whether she should keep her season ticket and purchase daily tickets, or what the cheapest travel option would be as she would now be travelling less frequently.

Mrs J did not receive the advice she needed from Southeastern, so she kept her season ticket. As a result, Mrs J was seeking a backdated refund of £290 per month from July to November for the days she didn’t use her season ticket. Mrs J was promised by a customer service agent that if she could provide a medical note this would be done for her.

However, Mrs J’s medical note was rejected on the basis that Southeastern do not offer refunds if passengers are working reduced hours. Mrs J disputed this but was told that the customer services agent who made the initial promise made a mistake.

Southeastern initially offered £15 as a gesture of good will for the poor advice as it felt that it wasn’t clear what Mrs J’s travelling pattern was going to be. After considerable back and forth, we made the case that the value of Mrs J’s loss was considerably greater than that due to the incorrect advice she received. Instead of taking the season ticket refund, which she should have been advised to, she kept hold of it on the basis she was going to receive a refund for those unused days.

Once Mrs J’s travelling pattern became clear Southeastern offered to provide a refund on the season ticket backdated to the original date of Mrs J’s medical note totalling £2,069.30.

Mrs J was extremely pleased with this and thanked us for our intervention.

Mr M booked tickets in advance for his wife to travel on Great Western Railway (GWR) services to London on 3 August, returning two days later.

Mrs M uses a mobility scooter (that measures approximately 4cm under GWR’s required measurements) and intended to use this whilst travelling.

Before booking the tickets, Mr M had been advised that he could get a permit for travel with the scooter, but when he contacted GWR to secure this his request was refused. GWR made this decision on the basis of manufacturer sizes, arguing his wife’s scooter is 1cm too long for use on their trains.

Transport Focus escalated this matter on the basis that the passenger has provided measurements which are below those required. We also sent a picture of the scooter with a tape measure next to it, indicating it was 4cm under the requirements.

GWR reviewed the measurements provided by Transport Focus and then called up the manufacturer who confirmed that the approximate size cited is actually accurate and, as such, the scooter should be larger than the dimensions GWR permits.

Although GWR felt it had made the right decision when handling this case initially, upon review it decided to issue the scooter permit as the customer had travelled before on the scooter without incident, and the manufacturer’s sizes given were very close to the guidelines. As a result, Mrs M was able to travel on her booked tickets and to use her mobility scooter.

GWR also explained that safety is a priority and it is necessary to set parameters to work within. A permit allows the operator to be confident that the scooter will not tip when being driven up the ramp onto the train. This potential hazard is a concern for GWR as it uses a variety of different trains.

Mr G fell ill and was taken to hospital. He was told he would be unfit for travel for the duration of his season ticket, meaning he would be unable to use his season ticket any longer.

He spoke with rail operator c2c at the time and enquired about how to secure a refund for the remainder of his season ticket, but they failed to advise him of the correct procedure – in other words surrender the ticket. Instead he sent in a photocopy of the ticket.

This meant that, since he was technically able to use the ticket, c2c would not provide a full refund on the remainder of his ticket. He was offered only a discretionary award of up to 4 weeks-worth of travel.

Mr G was told after he had recovered from illness that they could not provide full refund because he did not surrender his ticket at the time. He was very unhappy with this because, despite making c2c fully aware of the situation, they did not advise him clearly about this obligation at the time. He had effectively paid for something that it was not possible for him to use.

Mr G came to Transport Focus, who communicated the situation to c2c. They accepted their error and agreed to retrospectively refund Mr G £193.20 to cover the period he was signed off work due to illness, along with £50 in National Rail vouchers as a gesture of goodwill.

Two separate ticket inspections failed to spot that Mr F was missing part of his ticket as he travelled from Norwich to London Liverpool Street.

At Liverpool Street, staff spotted that part was missing and he was given a Penalty Fare Notice (PFN).

Naturally Mr F felt this was unfair as he had showed staff his tickets prior to boarding, and if the issue had been picked up he could have resolved it without getting a PFN.

He appealed this penalty, but the appeal was rejected. We stepped in to say that, as the tickets had been checked twice, this issue should have been identified earlier, preventing it from escalating.

Greater Anglia agreed to refund the penalty, once the passenger paid it.

Mrs D was due to travel from Oxford Road in Manchester to Chester. As this passenger boarded the train, she realised she had left her shopping on a seat at Oxford Road station.

When she reached Chester, Mrs D called the train company Northern, which manages Oxford Road station. She was advised that her shopping had been handed in at Oxford Road Station and that Northern would hold onto it for 90 days, so Mrs D could collect it within that timeframe. She was then provided with a Northern reference number.

Mrs D travelled to Oxford Road station to collect her property. However, upon her arrival, she was informed her shopping was not there and that it could possibly be at Manchester Piccadilly station. She provided station staff with the reference number she had been given by Northern but was told by station staff that they “don’t deal with references”.

Mrs D then travelled to Manchester Piccadilly. Here she was informed by station staff that her shopping wasn’t here either, but that it could possibly be at Oxford Road station. They likewise advised that at Manchester Piccadilly staff also don’t deal with reference numbers!

Mrs D complained to Northern (aware she had been assured that her items would be kept for 90 days, but that this clearly was not the case). As she did not receive a response from Northern’s complaints team, she sent a chaser. However, Northern did not respond to that either.

Following our escalation on her behalf, Northern confirmed that Mrs D’s items were no longer at Oxford Road station because they had been disposed of already.

We questioned why Mrs D’s shopping had been disposed of sooner than the 90 days. Northern stated the station has a limited amount of space to keep lost property, and that due to an influx of items handed in they felt they had to dispose of items before the 90-day deadline. Northern also confirmed that it is currently in a backlog with (all) customer enquiries and complaints – hence why the passenger was not responded to.

We pushed for Northern to compensate Mrs D for her items and for the cost of her travel in pursuit of her lost property. Northern agreed to send her a cheque for her train tickets and for the cost of the items (using her bank statement as proof of purchase).

Mrs D thanked us for our intervention.

Miss J has recently come to rely on a rollator – a mobility aid similar to a walking frame but with four wheels – and is unable to walk without it. Virgin Trains’ accessibility policy meant she wasn’t allowed use the wheelchair space on its services but due to the nature of her disability she was unable to use any other seats.

Miss J was really frustrated that she was no longer able to use Virgin Trains’ services to travel to see family and friends. She complained to Virgin Trains as she could not understand why it would not allow her to use the wheelchair spaces provided.

Virgin Trains apologised but advised that it was unable to pre-book these spaces for anything other than a wheelchair or scooter. It explained this is because a rollator can be folded while wheelchairs/scooters cannot.

Miss J was unhappy with Virgin Trains’ response, so she contacted Transport Focus to see if we could help.

Although it was not in breach of any regulation or its own Disabled Person’s Protection Policy, we contacted Virgin Trains and explained that, due to the nature of her disability, Miss J was unable to use standard seats. We asked that it review the case again to see if an alternative arrangement could be made.

Virgin Trains suggested if Miss J booked assistance prior to travel, the Journey Care team could reserve her a priority seat and a member of staff could assist in putting away her rollator. They could then bring this back to her on arrival at her destination. The only issue with this is that she would be unable to access her rollator throughout the journey if she needed to use the onboard facilities.

We went back to Virgin Trains to explain this and Virgin Trains decided to allow Miss J to use the wheelchair space for her rollator for all future bookings. It also liaised with Journey Care which manages assisted travel to ensure that Miss J’s requirements were met.

We informed Miss J of the outcome and she was really happy with the result of our intervention. We were pleased to see that Virgin Trains took into consideration Miss J’s personal circumstances as this enabled her to travel once again on their services.

Mr L was travelling from Edale to Lincoln Central via Sheffield with Northern. He bought his ticket from the ticket office three days before travelling. At this time he wasn’t warned that there were strikes taking place that may have affected his return journey.

Mr L lives in an area that has very limited phone and internet signal which meant he only became aware of disruption on the day of travel. As there are no buses that run through the area the only option Mr L had was to take a taxi to Sheffield which cost him an extra £40.

Mr L complained to Northern stating that had he been advised of the strikes when he purchased the tickets he could have made alternative arrangements or travelled on a different day. Northern declined Mr L’s request for a refund on the basis that information regarding the strikes was publicised across a number of sources, such as the television and social media.

Mr L was unhappy with this response as he was completely unaware of the strikes and was not informed of them when he purchased his tickets. This is when he contacted Transport Focus for assistance in his complaint.

We felt that Northern could have shown more discretion under the circumstances. The tickets were purchased from Lincoln, so it was in fact East Midland Trains staff that did not inform him of the strikes. We still felt that Northern should have taken into account the fact Mr L was not fully informed at the point of purchase, lives in a remote area and has limited access to the internet and alternative transport.

Transport Focus appealed to Northern on Mr L’s behalf and we were pleased that it agreed to offer Mr L a refund of his taxi fare. We also contacted East Midlands Trains with regards to the fact that staff did not inform Mr L of the strikes. It was sympathetic with Mr L’s case and kindly agreed to offer him £47 in rail vouchers to cover the full cost of the tickets.

Mr L received a total of £87 in compensation which was over and above what he was due. We are pleased that both operators took some responsibility for this and contributed compensation towards the additional expenses Mr L incurred. Mr L was very pleased with this outcome and thanked Transport Focus for our work on his behalf.

Mr H booked tickets to travel with Virgin Trains using his Traveller’s Membership Club Card membership which entitles him to free First Class travel at weekends.

On the day of travel, Mr H forgot his membership card and the train manager said he must buy new tickets. The passenger stated that the train manager explained that he could apply for a refund of the new tickets, as long as he could demonstrate he had a valid membership card.

Mr H applied for a refund on the tickets, providing proof of his membership card. However this was declined with Virgin Trains stating that it is the passenger’s responsibility to carry their card when travelling. Mr H was really unhappy with this as he felt he was assured by the train manager that he would receive a refund. He contacted Transport Focus to see if we could help him.

We approached Virgin Trains on Mr H’s behalf. Mr H had been able to clearly demonstrate that he had a valid Traveller’s Membership Club Card but due to leaving this at home by mistake had to pay another £203.20 for the journey, which otherwise would have been free.

Following the investigation, Virgin Trains were unable to confirm either version of events. However, it was acknowledged that the advice given to the passenger could have been based on Virgin Trains’ forgotten Railcard policy which has not been extended to Traveller Membership Club Cards. The forgotten Railcard policy allows passengers to claim a refund on any additional cost incurred for a new ticket if they can prove after the journey that they are a Railcard holder.

Given the confusion regarding the Railcard policy and the fact that neither version of events can be confirmed, we escalated this higher within Virgin Trains and it agreed to refund the full ticket cost of £203.20. Mr H was very happy with the outcome although we felt that Virgin Trains should have fully investigated this when first contacted by Mr H, and also been clearer with staff on its policies.

Miss E bought an annual season ticket, costing £4900, for her daily commute with Southeastern. Although her ticket was valid for 12 months, Miss E moved house 10 months after purchasing it. Her nearest station was a few stops further out than where she originally travelled from. As a result her current season ticket would not be valid.

Miss E went to the station to ask for help and was advised to buy a brand new season ticket for £6228 and claim a refund of the old one. There would, however, have been no refund value of her current season ticket as the last two months are essentially free, a benefit of the season ticket.

After purchasing the new season ticket, Miss E discovered that it is possible to exchange your season ticket for another, also known as a changeover ticket, but Southeastern staff had not offered this as an option.

Miss E was, understandably, unhappy with this as she had effectively lost out on 40 days’ worth of travel. When she complained, Southeastern advised that she had actually got a cheaper deal as the changeover ticket would have cost her an additional £200. Miss E remained unhappy and this is when she sought advice from Transport Focus.

We contacted Southeastern on Miss E’s behalf. The operator was reluctant to agree, and still believed the option offered by its staff was the cheapest. Transport Focus felt that Southeastern should have charged Miss E the difference in cost of the new season ticket calculated pro rata for the remaining time left on her original season ticket. Miss E had 40 days remaining so should have been allowed to pay an additional £145.60 (difference in cost of 40 days between old and new) to change over her season ticket.

After numerous conversations Southeastern continued to claim that the option given to Miss E was the cheapest and that it could not substantiate what the staff member had said. If Miss E had been allowed to buy a changeover ticket she would indeed have paid more, however she would have a season ticket which was valid for an additional 40 days which is equivalent to £778.50. Miss E effectively was losing out on £632.90 (£778.50 – £145.60).

Transport Focus approached Southeastern yet again as we felt the outcome to be very unfair. Having demonstrated that Miss E had technically paid less Southeastern eventually agreed to refund the £632.90. Miss E was extremely happy with the result and thanked us for our intervention in her case.

Ms B dropped her son, Mr B, at Bromsgrove station where he normally buys a ticket from the ticket office. On this occasion, the ticket office was closed and Mr B was unable to buy a ticket from the machine as it only accepts cards. Mr B only had cash on him so he had to board the train without a ticket.

Mr B was travelling to Five Ways station so he had to change at Birmingham University where he tried to purchase a ticket. There were no ticket vending machines inside the station and as he was unable to get through the barriers, Mr B was unable to buy a ticket here either. He boarded the train to Five Ways where he was issued with a Penalty Fare Notice costing £30 because he did not have a ticket. He explained to staff that he attempted to purchase a ticket on departure, and when he changed at University station, but was unable to.

Mr B later appealed the fine. However, this was rejected on the basis that there were facilities to purchase a ticket on departure. His mother contacted Transport Focus on her son’s behalf as she felt the decision to uphold the fine was unfair.

We investigated the case with London Midland Prosecutions and could confirm that the ticket office was closed and that the ticket vending machines only accept cards. This information should and could have been checked by the staff member who issued the penalty fare, and if they had done so it could have saved Ms B and her son from having to go through this process.

London Midland agreed to waive the penalty fare and refund the £20 Mr B paid. They also fed back the issues Transport Focus raised with regards to staff checking the ticket purchasing facilities available before issuing a penalty fare. They understood that not everyone, especially those under the age of 18, will have a bank card to purchase a ticket. Both Mr and Ms B were happy with the outcome.

Mr K purchased first class tickets from Bristol Temple Meads to Inverness to catch a ferry. The last leg of his journey was with Caledonian Sleeper and on boarding the service he was told it was running late.

Mr K’s journey was delayed by two hours and, prior to arriving at Inverness he was given a claim form. Due to the delay, Mr K missed the bus he intended to catch to make his ferry, so he took a taxi. In the taxi, it became clear he was not going to make the ferry departure, so he arranged to meet the ship at another port.

Mr K spent the following six weeks at sea and he posted the claim form when next in port, but it was rejected due to it being received four days out of the 28 day claim time.

Mr K was only claiming for a refund on his train ticket, not the taxi, ferry ticket or overnight accommodation, so he was very unhappy with the outcome as it was out of his control that he was unable to submit the form in time.

Mr K contacted Transport Focus to see if there was anything we could do to help. We argued that Mr K’s circumstances should have been considered as four days was not an excessive amount of time and they should have refunded his train tickets. We also asked that Caledonian Sleeper consider providing a goodwill gesture for the inconvenience caused to Mr K when he tried to resolve the matter.

Caledonian Sleeper reviewed the case and agreed that it should have been dealt with differently and refunded the full cost of Mr K’s ticket, £422.80, as well as offering a £30 voucher as a goodwill gesture.

Mr K was very happy with the outcome and we hope that Caledonian Sleeper will in future use discretion when enforcing policies.

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