Belfast Telegraph

Call for rail ombudsman to make it easier for passengers to claim compensation

Rail passengers should find it easier to claim compensation rather than being told to "like it or lump it", a former minister has said.

Conservative Tim Loughton wants a law change to establish a rail ombudsman, which would oversee a simplified scheme aimed at also hitting train operators harder financially to act as an incentive to improve services.

MPs heard 47 million passenger journeys were cancelled or significantly late in 2015, with Mr Loughton labelling the existing complaints and compensation processes as "simply not fit for purpose".

He proposed the idea amid problems for Southern rail passengers linked to strike action.

Introducing his Rail Ombudsman Bill, Mr Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) told the Commons: "The problem currently is the passenger can like it or lump it.

"The complaints procedure largely relies on the goodwill of the train operating company beyond the minimum delay repay obligations if they accept the application at all."

Mr Loughton said it is "extraordinary" there is no ombudsman system for rail complaints, with the Consumer Rights Act 2015 a missed opportunity to extend legal protections to passengers and make it easier to secure compensation.

He said of his Bill: "It will overhaul the compensation scheme, creating a much tougher financial impact on train operating companies and a fairer, easier way of compensating passengers with a more reliable reflection on the inconvenience and costs they have suffered.

"Every time a train is late beyond an agreed threshold or cancelled altogether in advance or at short notice or overruns a station, a penalty fine will be paid into a central pot independent of the train operator and before affected passengers having to claim.

"Passengers will then be able to claim directly from that pot but in a much more simplified way."

Mr Loughton said he has met a company which has developed an app which automatically lodges compensation claims where appropriate, with the money paid directly to a bank account without the need for paperwork.

He was allowed to bring in his Bill and asked for it to be given a second reading on March 24 next year.

It is highly unlikely to become law without Government support.