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At last! The Rail Ombudsman arrives…

At last rail passengers will join other consumers in having access to free, independent, binding dispute resolution. The Rail Ombudsman builds on years of successful work done by Transport Focus to help passengers resolve complaints, and to feedback from this experience to inform government policy and the work of the rail regulator. It boosts consumer power and brings the rail sector into line with other industries.

Transport Focus welcomes the establishment of The Rail Ombudsman – an independent body with powers to impose binding decisions on unresolved complaints between passengers and train companies. The new scheme provides a clear incentive for all train operators to transform their complaint handling systems. It should also help drive wider efforts to improve rail services so that fewer consumers have any cause for complaint in the first place.

We expect the ability of the Rail Ombudsman to impose binding decisions to resolve complaints – and the fact it can charge train companies fees for doing this – will drive improvements to the way most train operators handle passenger complaints. Transport Focus will track the work and effectiveness of the new scheme very closely, to make sure the Rail Ombudsman delivers measurable benefits for passengers.

Many types of unresolved complaints will be ‘in scope’ for The Rail Ombudsman, but not all. For full information on the role and operation of The Rail Ombudsman visit the scheme website. The Ombudsman will probably focus more on complaints about failure in service delivery and information.

Transport Focus will continue to help passengers resolve complaints that fall outside the scope of scheme. In particular, Transport Focus will continue to focus on the specification of services which train companies cannot necessarily effect – Government sets out through the franchises much of the detail around what is purchased by way of services on the railway from train operating companies.

Transport Focus has a long track record of resolving complex complaints and driving better complaint handling across the rail industry. For example, responding to a growing number of passenger complaints over penalties applied for making a genuine mistake for not having a valid fare or ticket, Transport Focus published research highlighting poor and unfair practices. This led to improvements on the ground and this type of complaint has become less frequent.

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