Make Delay Pay: more to do to promote rail compensation?

21 October 2020

It’s getting harder to remember life before coronavirus, it’s had such an impact on the way we live and travel. But this week we had reason to take another look at a subject that had been one of passengers’ main issues before Covid-19 struck – compensation for delays.

All our research on rail confirms the importance of punctuality for passengers – they want and expect their train to be on time. And when it’s not, a good, easy-to-use compensation mechanism can take some of the sting out of delays and help build trust between passengers and the train company.

However, our research showed that too few passengers were claiming what they were entitled to. So in 2019 we focussed our efforts on improving the Delay Repay compensation schemes with our ‘Make Delay Pay’ campaign. We worked with the railway and the Department for Transport to raise awareness and make it easier for people to claim – we published a report setting out our recommendations and we even had adverts up and down the country in stations and cinemas.

Just before Covid-19 struck we did some research on behalf of DfT looking at what people thought about the process and, crucially, the proportion of eligible passengers now claiming compensation. This has been published today.

We’re pleased that the proportion of people claiming has increased. Those claiming for 30-minute delays has gone up from 39 per cent in 2018 to 46 per cent in 2020; claim rates for 15-minute delays have also increased, albeit by a lower amount (up from 18 per cent to 22 per cent). Levels of satisfaction with the process have also improved.

This is good news but it’s clear there is still room for improvement. Three main barriers remain: too many people still say that they don’t claim because it takes too long, or that the process is too complicated, or especially for 15-minute delays, that the amount they’d get back isn’t worth the effort.

The rail regulator has also been looking at this. The Office of Rail and Road recently consulted on proposals for a delay compensation code of practice that would require train companies to provide clear and accurate information to passengers on their rights to claim (both during the booking process and their journey), and to simplify the claims process.

In our response to the consultation we welcomed these proposals – many of which will deliver the recommendations set out in our own Make Delay Pay report, including on announcements about compensation on trains and at stations, prominent messages on websites, simplification of claims forms and ensuring Delay Repay accounts remember key information like season ticket details.

While these will help with awareness and the ease of claiming we still have to tackle the sense that it’s not worth bothering for the amount you’d get back. Ultimately we think the answer lies in more automation – the best way of eliminating indifference is for the system to do most of the work for you, either paying the money directly into your account or prompting passengers to simply confirm their claim with all the details pre-populated.

The current crisis has inevitably shifted focus onto other issues right now, but we haven’t forgotten about this. Running trains on time, and how you put it right when they are not, will always be important.

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