MPs launch Rail Ombudsman Bill following Southern disruption
MPs have called for an Ombudsman to oversee the rail industry following the chaos on Southern Rail.
Southern services have been severely delayed throughout the year, ultimately forcing it to cancel all trains last week because of an Aslef drivers’ strike.
Introducing the Bill, Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, said the legislation was not “a silver bullet” to resolve the problems on Southern, but would address the compensation system for rail delays, which was “simply not fit for purpose”.
Currently, Network Rail compensates TOCs via schedule 8 payments when something goes wrong on the rail network that causes disruption.
However, operators are not required to pass this money on to passengers. A report, published by the ORR in March in response to a super-complaint by consumer group Which?, said that passengers only claim around 20% of the compensation they are entitled to for delays due to a lack of clear information from companies.
The ORR’s follow-up to the report, published yesterday, found that while some companies have subsequently made it easier to claim compensation, others have only made “minimal changes”.
Vickie Sheriff, director of campaigns and communications at Which?, backed the Rail Ombudsman Bill, saying: “It must be easier to find out how to get compensation and make a claim.
“The regulator should take action if train companies do not make progress quickly and the government must introduce a new mandatory ombudsman so that passenger complaints are properly heard and resolved.”
Under the Bill, penalty fines when a train is cancelled, overruns at a station or is late beyond an agreed threshold would be paid into a central pot, independent of operators. Passengers would then claim centralised compensation directly from the fund.
The pot would also fund a Rail Ombudsman, modelled on the Energy Ombudsman. It would resolve individual complaints, supervise compensation payments, instruct operators to resolve problems which were the subject of frequent complaints, and identify long-term problems within the sector.
The remainder of the money would be used to offset high rail fares, which are set to increase by 2.3% from 1 January.
Loughton called it “extraordinary” that there was currently no ombudsman for rail complaints, saying that it should have been introduced when the Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force on rail.
The Rail Ombudsman Bill is a private members bill introduced under the ten-minute rule, meaning it is unlikely to become law. It was presented by a cross-party group of MPs from constituencies in the Southern route, including Sir Nicholas Soames, the Conservative MP for Mid Sussex; Harriet Harman, the former equalities minister and MP for Camberwell and Peckham; and Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton and leader of the Green party. It will have its next reading on 24 March.
The DfT has already promised that Southern passengers affected by the disruption will be able to claim a month’s fares back, and be eligible for compensation after 15 minutes delay instead of 30.
Campaign for Better Transport has called for passengers to have a right to compensation for poor-quality transport as well as delays.
(Image c. Victoria Jones from PA Wire and PA Images)
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