Are they for rail? The best-kept refund secret

Are they for rail? The best-kept refund secret

What a battering the country's train operators have taken this month. As well as the bad weather beating the rail network into submission with flooding and high winds, the service's own users have waded in to kick it while it's down.

Recently, we heard that commuters were happy to tell consumer group Which? about how they can't get no satisfaction when it comes to trying to get value for money as far as the train is concerned. The writing was on the wall when it was revealed less than half of all operators across the country achieved higher than a 50 per cent score on their approval rating.

The latest bombshell? According to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the same companies are failing in their duty to make customers aware of when they are due refunds as a result of services being delayed or cancelled. 

In fact, the ORR reckons around 75 per cent of us don't have a clue when it comes to knowing our rights in this area, suggesting rail bosses are potentially pocketing a packet in unclaimed compensation payouts. The latest estimates indicate the amount not being passed on to those entitled to it adds up to around £100 million.

Apparently, just hiding the relevant information away on a website or only explaining the finer details on how to claim when someone asks about it isn't doing enough, as far as the watchdog is concerned.

Rewriting the rule book

We're sure we're not alone in saying this is the first time we've heard about the ability to ask for a refund. In fact, we know we're not and that's the whole point. 

Not only have the rail firms' inadequacies contributed towards consistently disrupting our day, they've also kept schtum for a long time on how we can do something to at least partially address the inconvenience we've been through.

So, let's set the record straight. According to the Rail Delivery Group, each company has its own compensation payout guidelines, which can be found on their customer charters. 

Generally, refunds are granted if you choose not to use the service to travel as a result of it being delayed, while you may also be entitled to something if you do make the journey and takes more than an hour more to get to its destination than anticipated. However, this remuneration can take the form of vouchers in some cases, which can understandably lead to frustration if your last journey from hell led you to vow to never set foot on a carriage again.

The get out of jail clause

Of course, much of the recent focus on the rail network's failings have come about as a result of its inadequacy in dealing with the recent bad weather. 

While it's unfortunate for train bosses that this has coincided with a 48-hour tube strike and low satisfaction ratings, its the filling of the cancellation board because of wind and rain that seems have captured much of the media's imagination.

However, as the headlines continue to be churned out, there's another piece of small print in those passenger charters we mentioned that need to be paid close attention to.

Delays caused by matters "out of our control" are not included in statistics for reliability and punctuality statistics. Therefore, it is stated these instances are exempt from any possibility of compensation being awarded to the hapless commuter.

Getting back on track

This revelation brings us back to a point we've made quite a lot over the last few weeks, that taking the train is an unnecessary risk if you're depending on getting from A to B without fear of that journey being disrupted.

If you rely on the rail when it comes to business, then now is the time to start thinking of a backup plan to ensure that when the service inevitably lets you down again, productivity and therefore profits don't suffer as a result.

One alternative option is to invest in developing a remote working policy among your workers. By enabling them to work from home, you are not only saving them money by occasionally not having them travel into the office, but you are also protecting yourself against situations where they physically can't make the journey in for one reason or another.

Free conference call facilities play a huge part of this, allowing colleagues to communicate as they would if they were all in the same building. This approach can also be applied to keeping in contact with clients that may be located in different parts of the country.

Ultimately, it has been a pretty bad year so far for rail operators, but it doesn't have to be the same for you. Consider your options now to ensure the rest of 2014 moves on full-steam ahead.