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Rail win: Passengers to get new consumer rights

Andrew Allen's picture

The Government appears to have listened - it is expected that train journeys will be covered under new consumer rights legislation in what could be a big win for passengers who suffer delayed journeys and other poor service.

It's the quiet ones you have to watch. The Department for Transport is imminently expected to sneak out a statement about the extent of the EU's Consumer Rights Act, which is due to come into force later this year. 

We expect the DfT to say that following a public consultation (which the Campaign responded to) the Governent had decided not to exempt licensed rail passenger services from the Consumer Rights Act. This is particularly important for cancellations and delays, but could conceivably cover other things you have a reasonable right to expect - from toilets that work to usable wifi. Put simply, an announcement is due that should mark the path to clearer and easier compensation when you get poor service from the railways. 

This represents a complete volte-face from where the Government and the rail industry started from when the DfT's consultation was published last year. This set out the Government's intention to permanently exempt rail from new standardised and more powerful consumer rights laws on the grounds that existing rail compensation arrangements were robust and well-understood. This is obviously and demonstrably not the case. Research has repeatedly shown that the large majority of passengers have little understanding of when they are due compensation, nor how they should go about claiming it. Deliberately excluding rail from new consumer rights legislation would have undermined efforts to improve passengers' understanding of their rights.

In fairness, the Government has already taken some steps requiring train operators to tighten up on rail compensation, notably through delay-repay initiatives. The new rules will not replace these arrangements immediately, but instead will give the industry until October next year to come up with an improved offer.

While it looks like good news, there are things to look out for in the Government's full announcement. For example, how will standardised compensation arrangements be managed? Will compensation be given automatically (rather than haphazardly offered, as now), and how will Conditions of Carriage be amended to reflect the new standards? But for the moment, it's good news that the Government has listened to rail users' concerns and passengers can look forward to a fairer deal when things go wrong.

 

Image by Ian Britton via Flickr

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