Watchdog asks why passengers are still being unfairly penalised

03 February 2020

How can passengers trust the railway if they still get penalised for genuine mistakes, asks the watchdog.

Independent watchdog Transport Focus has investigated how passengers are treated when they appeal a penalty fare.

New regulations came into force in 2018, that allowed passengers to take their appeal to two independent bodies. But the watchdog, working with London TravelWatch, has found that there are problems with signposting of the service, poor attempts to investigate what happened, a lack of discretion shown, poor quality responses being sent and a lack of transparency.

  • One passenger had to rush to the hospital as she was experiencing concerning symptoms relating to her pregnancy. She was unable to buy a ticket and the ticket inspector issued her with a penalty fare despite her explanation. Due to her health she then missed the date to appeal the penalty. She got in touch with Transport Focus who immediately acted to get the penalty fare cancelled.
  • Another passenger went through the appeal process after being issued a Penalty Fare Notice (PFN). After being rejected by the first two stages he went to the Independent Appeal Panel’s website. As the website wasn’t clear and there were no other contact details he did not know where to submit the appeal. He used a webform to ask ‘Is this the site where I make a 3rd appeal’ to then receive a response from the Independent Appeal Panel stating that had been his third appeal.

David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said:

“We have long called for the rail industry to show discretion where passengers haven’t intended to evade paying fares. As our investigation shows, there is still a long way to go.

“It is right that train companies should take steps to stop those who try to evade paying fares. But passengers must be able to trust that penalty fares are given only to those who deserve them rather than treating honest passengers as criminals.

We would like to see increased clarity and consistency over the entire process for passengers.”

The watchdog is calling for:

  • increased and more effective communication by appeal bodies and train operators about whole appeals process
  • consistency in the process by which penalty fares are given and when they can be overturned
  • transparency about the numbers of penalty fares given and appealed at each stage as well as those overturned or upheld.


Notes to editors

Transport Focus’s investigation Penalty fares – the appeals process:

For further information please contact:
Misha MccGwire, communications officer
Tel: 0300 123 0821 or email:

Transport Focus is the independent consumer organisation representing the interests of:

  • rail passengers in Great Britain
  • bus, coach and tram users across England outside London
  • all users of England’s motorways and major ‘A’ roads (the Strategic Road Network).
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