Transport User Voice – August 2019 – Rail Ombudsman seven months on: how is it doing?

30 July 2019

Transport Focus assess progress

The Rail Ombudsman began operating seven months ago. Are passengers benefiting from it?

Having worked to set it up, Transport Focus is keen to ensure passengers benefit from the new scheme. Its success depends on passengers knowing where to go to resolve a complaint. The analysis of the first seven months found it to be poor and patchy at best.

As a result of concerns, Transport Focus invited the Ombudsman and Rail Delivery Group to a Board meeting in public to respond. The two organisations acknowledged the need to do more to make passengers aware and were rolling out a Good Practice Guide to the industry.

Some train companies, such as Greater Anglia and Cross Country, signposted people well on their websites. But none were provided a link to the Ombudsman on their home page. And some companies, such as Virgin Trains, made no reference to the Rail Ombudsman on their website at all. Some buried the information, so it was difficult to find or more than two clicks away: Thameslink and Southern required four clicks. On South Western Railway’s website it was two clicks away from the home page, but there was no explanation of the process alongside outdated information.

Given the most likely route for passengers to encounter the Ombudsman is through contact with individual train companies, access to the information needs to be easy to use and clear. Good practice on websites should be:

  • the train company’s home page should contain a link or reference to the Ombudsman. This should be no more than two clicks from their home page
  • they should also link to the Ombudsman quick start guide
  • all signposting information should be accurate and up to date

Some unknowns remain. The number of complaints being dealt by the Ombudsman is low compared to the numbers dealt with previously and it is not clear why that should be. Is it because passengers don’t know what they can do? Or is it that they remain longer with the rail companies? And how satisfied are passengers with the new process?

Transport Focus wants passengers to be better served by the Ombudsman with access to binding, free and independent dispute resolution, especially when initial complaints are not resolved. The scheme should provide the incentive to train companies to drive improvements, so passengers don’t need to complain in the first place.

Transport Focus will continue to monitor and assess progress to ensure passengers really will get a better deal.

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