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Current rules on refunding rail season tickets

Many season ticket holders will be wondering whether to surrender their ticket during the coronavirus outbreak. This brief guide sets out how the current system of refunds work and how to go about getting one.

The first key point to understand is that there is no ‘pause & resume’ option when it comes to season tickets. Maybe there should be, but at present there isn’t. Under current rules you cannot just ‘put it on hold’ for the next few weeks/months or ask for a refund for the days you do not use it. A refund works on the basis of you surrendering your ticket permanently and not using it again.

To get a refund you must return the ticket to the retailer you bought it from. You can request a refund from a ticket office managed by your train operator, or online if that’s where you bought the ticket. If in doubt, then contact your retailer.

The refund is calculated from the date the ticket was returned to the retailer. If you have been ill the refund can be backdated to the point you stopped using it, but you will need proof that you were ill, and you must not have started travelling again using your Season Ticket since.

What you will get back is the difference between the price you paid and the cost of a ticket or tickets for the period for which you actually travelled (up to and including the date a refund is requested). There may also be an administration charge of no more than £10.00.

So, if you have used an annual ticket for six months, they will work out how much you would have paid to travel for those six months if you hadn’t bought an annual ticket. It is not done on a pro-rata basis – so if you have only used six months (half the ticket) you will not get back half the remaining value. It will be less.

This is because of the discounts applied to season tickets. In simple terms, the longer your season ticket the greater the discount applied. So a weekly ticket has a lower average cost per day than a day ticket; a monthly has a lower daily cost than a weekly; with an annual ticket having the lowest daily cost of all.

When they calculate the cost of the travel you have used (six months in the example above) they use these higher ‘average cost’ figures. As a result, season tickets ‘run out’ of refund value over time. To get anything back on a weekly season you need at least three days left, and at least seven days left on a monthly. Annual tickets usually have little or no refund value after 40 weeks, which is about 10 months.

For example:

Southampton Central to London Terminals (prices rounded)

(Travel via any permitted route)

Cost of travel Approx. refund value

(annual ticket cost – cost of travel used)

(not including any admin fee)

Cost of annual ticket £6044
Cost of 1 months travel £580 £5464
Cost of 3 months travel £1741 £4303
Cost of 6 months travel £3481 £2563
Cost of 9 months travel £5222 £822
Cost of 10 months travel £5802 £242

It is worth making your own calculations before submitting your refund request – so you know roughly what to expect.  The season ticket calculator on the National Rail website can help in this.

Special arrangements apply if you wish to amend the details of an existing season ticket. So if, for example, you are still travelling but have moved house or place of work, you can apply for what is known as a ‘changeover’ where you switch from the old journey to the new.  Your new season ticket has to start on the day following surrender of the original ticket. If the new ticket is cheaper than the old one you will receive a refund pro-rata to the periods before and after the changeover.

Transport for London Oyster and paper season ticket refunds

If you have purchased a season ticket for travel from TFL it will be held either on an Oyster card or as a paper ticket. Paper tickets are only available for purchase from a TFL Rail or Overground station. An Oyster card season ticket can be purchased at a TFL station, online or over the phone.

In both instances, the refund for a season ticket purchased from TFL is calculated in the same way as national rail season tickets.

Your refund will be worked out by subtracting the going-cost of a ticket for the amount of time you have used your season ticket, taken away from the price you paid initially for you season ticket. As with national rail season tickets, this is to account for the discounts that are applied to season tickets.

The only difference with other operators is that you will have to cancel your oyster card when you surrender your season ticket.

Ordinarily, TFL would charge a £5 admin fee for this cancellation. However due to the coronavirus it is waiving this fee.

Refunds for a season ticket on Oyster Card

You will be entitled to a season ticket refund if you bought your ticket from TFL and there is:

  • 6 weeks remaining on an Annual ticket
  • 7 days remaining on a Monthly ticket
  • 3 days remaining on a 7 Day ticket

This applies to all travelcard or bus and tram passes on Oyster card.

Refund for a season ticket on paper

You will be entitled to the same refunds as above.

Currently you can only claim a refund from TFL if you bought your ticket at a London Overground or TfL Rail station and by visiting the ticket office from which it was bought. TFL expect to have an alternative method available next week, in the interim we are seeking assurance that you won’t have to go to a ticket office and that it will backdate refunds on paper tickets.

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