ORR urges sweeping reforms on accessibility and compensation

16 July 2019

Assisted travel reforms include improving the reliability of assistance for passengers, a shorter timeframe for booking assistance, and compensation when things go wrong. ORR recommends that train operators must tell passengers of their right to compensation during a journey and settle claims within 20 days.

Under plans submitted by the ORR to the Williams Rail Review, passengers will be able to claim compensation more easily when their train is delayed, and the rail network will be more accessible to passengers with disabilities.

There were 5.3 million delay compensation claims made over the past year and research in 2018 also revealed that only a third (35%) of passengers entitled to compensation claimed it, totaling some £81 million. There were almost 1.3 million booked passenger assists in 2018-2019. This is an increase of 2% compared with the previous year.

The plans we’ve outlined today, welcomed by Keith Williams, Chair of the Independent Review of the rail industry established by the Secretary of State for Transport in September 2018, include:

Providing help to passengers who need assistance

Essential changes to make travelling by train more accessible include:

  • requiring train operators to cut the timeframe required for booking assistance from the current maximum of 24 hours to 10pm the day before travel by April 2020.
  • making further reductions until booking assistance can be requested two hours before travel, by April 2022.

Train operators must also improve the reliability of the assistance all passengers receive – whether travel is booked in advance, or not.

Short-term changes require train operators to ensure that:

  • staff are better trained to provide assistance
  • compensation is provided to passengers when booked assistance fails
  • the same branding and signage for assisted travel services is introduced across the board
  • improving the quality of information available to passengers to make it easier for them to plan journeys.

In the longer term, the ORR wants to see further improvements. These include a review of funding for accessibility, the use of commercial incentives to maximise the number of journeys available and creating a system to allow passengers to buy tickets and book assistance in a single transaction.

Simplifying Compensation

The ORR’s suggested improvements to compensation could see new rules introduced to raise passengers' awareness of their rights. These will require train operators to tell passengers of their right to compensation while they are on a delayed train and when they get off it.

The rules would also require companies to process compensation claims within 20 working days, publish data on how well they are meeting these standards, and to accept claims from Third Party Intermediaries (organisations or individuals that provide expert advice) which meet a new code of conduct.

We recommend that operators automate their claims processes as far as possible, that the various companies’ delay repay schemes all work in the same way, and Transport Focus leads a national awareness-raising programme.

John Larkinson, ORR Chief Executive, said:

"Despite improvements made by the industry, the quality of assistance provided to passengers who need it falls below society's expectations. And passengers are still not claiming the compensation they are entitled to when trains are delayed. A substantial change is needed, and we look forward to continue working with the Williams Rail Review to help bring this about."

Measuring Up – our annual consumer report

Today we’ve also published our annual consumer report, Measuring Up. This details where we’ve already secured improvements for the benefit of passengers, what actions we’ve taken, and compares performance across train companies in important areas such as passenger information and complaints handling.

The report describes enforcement action we’ve taken in the last year, alongside examples of where we’ve worked with companies to ensure that they comply with rules around complaint handling, accessibility, passenger information and consumer law.

The report also summarises our planned work in the interests of rail passengers for the year ahead. Particular attention should be paid to the work that still needs to be done in the areas of compensation and accessibility, which further supports our calls for improvements in these areas.

It also highlights several cases where we’re working to establish whether major improvement work at stations was carried out in line with industry standards on accessibility or whether the parties involved were granted approval for such standards to be relaxed.

Notes to editors

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  1. The Office of Rail and Road is the UK’s rail regulator and strategic roads monitor for England. Follow us @railandroad.
  2. The Williams Rail Review was established in September 2018 to look at the structure of the whole rail industry and the way passenger rail services are delivered. The review will make recommendations for reform that prioritise passengers’ and taxpayers’ interests. For more information.
  3. Office of Rail and Road Annual Rail Consumer Report
  4. Office of Rail and Road's advice to the Williams Rail Review. 
  5. Compensation claimed – DfT:
  6. Compensation paid by train operating companies – DfT: