Creating an Ombudsman service to deal with rail complaints

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gray1404

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Simple question: what would it take for the government to set up an Ombudsman service to deal with rail complaints?

We all agree how hopeless Transport Focus is, not least their total lack of knowledge. Why has the government not already set up an Ombudsman service for railway customers yet they have for other industry.

In my experience, such as with the Ombudsman for the banking industry, this has the effect of them trying to resolve the complaint once and for all once they realise you are serious about taking the matter further. There is of course the financial implication that the company concerned has to pay for each case the Ombudsman decides on.

I wondered if this is the sort of thing we could get up an online petition, moreover at this time with the attention in Parliament on Southern Rail and Delay Repay 15, so it can be debated in Parliament?
 
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trainophile

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I'm not sure how ombudspersons operate, but my immediate thought was that if you could go to them directly they would be swamped with trivial complaints, e.g. the Virgin Rip Off Britain situation.

If it was used for referral when unable to resolve with the TOC, then there is an argument for setting up such a service.
 

maniacmartin

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You mean like the Rail Regulator that was established when he railways were privatised, but abolished under the Blair (I think) government because threat criticism of the DfT embarrassed the government too much?
 

J-2739

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Aren't complaints from different TOCs too diverse to cram into one help site?
 

ainsworth74

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I'm not sure how ombudspersons operate, but my immediate thought was that if you could go to them directly they would be swamped with trivial complaints, e.g. the Virgin Rip Off Britain situation.

You are required to exhaust the internal complaints process of the organisation your complaint is with (or be able to show that they've ignored your complaint for six or more weeks) before going to an Ombudsman otherwise you'll be referred back to the organisation in question.

On the OPs point I think it's an excellent idea an Ombudsman set up along the lines of the Financial Ombudsman Service would be an excellent innovation.

Aren't complaints from different TOCs too diverse to cram into one help site?

The same way that complaints from different banks and financial organisations are too diverse to cram into one? Because that seems to work quite well.
 

J-2739

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The same way that complaints from different banks and financial organisations are too diverse to cram into one? Because that seems to work quite well.

Ok, I wasn't really thinking straight with that comment to be honest.

Apart from that, I think this is a fine idea.
 

gray1404

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Suggested wording for an online petition anyone.............. I am happy to set one up if we think it will get enough signatures.
 
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matt_world2004

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I would go further, I would allow an ombudsman to mystery shop any route, they would do it with a valid, but complicated ticket combination , EG a split ticket an off peak ticket that is allowed to be used because of local easements and if they are refused boarding or threatened with prosecution, the TOC gets fined, or in cases of serious breaches. Loses its ability to prosecute ticketing offenses or issue penalty fares. Meaning all prosecutions for a ticket offence from this TOC need to be performed by a third party company (eg another, compliant TOC)

It will stop TOC's profiting through ignorance and will encourage guards to err on the side of the consumer on ticket combinations that they are not sure if they are valid or not
 

AlterEgo

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I would go further, I would allow an ombudsman to mystery shop any route, they would do it with a valid, but complicated ticket combination , EG a split ticket an off peak ticket that is allowed to be used because of local easements and if they are refused boarding or threatened with prosecution, the TOC gets fined, or in cases of serious breaches. Loses its ability to prosecute ticketing offenses or issue penalty fares. Meaning all prosecutions for a ticket offence from this TOC need to be performed by a third party company (eg another, compliant TOC)

It will stop TOC's profiting through ignorance and will encourage guards to err on the side of the consumer on ticket combinations that they are not sure if they are valid or not

It would be much better if an ombudsman concentrated on core consumer issues rather than niche ticket combinations which are almost the exclusive preserve of enthusiasts.

I would support an ombudsman and would prefer that Transport Focus were entirely scrapped and replaced by an ombudsman with minor enforcement powers (up to £500, say).
 

Clip

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I like the idea of an Ombudsman but from viewing a lot of the issues on this forum with TOCs a lot of them lately seem to be late payment of delay repay or not paying delay repay after a few days of said claim but still within the time limit allowed.

All these spurious issues that are often raised are the ones that clog up the whole process as someone has to deal with that rather than getting on with the job of getting the claims out there.

Obviously bad practice from those who work on the trains with their lack of knowledge of our increasing complex ticketing system needs to be stamped out but as everyone knows not everyone in the workplace takes notice and does the minimum required to keep their job and thats something that you have to manage out but takes a long time so the issue will still be there.
 

PermitToTravel

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It would be much better if an ombudsman concentrated on core consumer issues rather than niche ticket combinations which are almost the exclusive preserve of enthusiasts.

You're right that the problems encountered by ticketing enthusiasts are different to those encountered by normal people, but I don't think Matt's examples are necessarily poor ones.

Understanding of peak restrictions is very poor on the ground, as are things like passenger rights with respect to delays. A very serious but insufficiently spoken about issue is trains deleted from the timetable with little to no notice, particularly last trains when there's a dearth of staff to help.
 

route:oxford

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Simple question: what would it take for the government to set up an Ombudsman service to deal with rail complaints?

We all agree how hopeless Transport Focus is, not least their total lack of knowledge. Why has the government not already set up an Ombudsman service for railway customers yet they have for other industry.

Actually, not everyone agrees.

I've used the Financial Ombudsman Service, the ICO and Transport Focus.

All of whom found in my favour.

Transport Focus took less than 24 hours and a cheque from the rail company arrived 24 hours after that.

The FOS found in my favour after two weeks and a BACS credit arrived within 3 days from the finance company.

The ICO have to be prompted and reminded of how connecting elements such as the Law of Agency are important to the decision making process. Decision after 9 months. Cheque from Chicago based bank with office in London received after 3 months of further prompting.
 

deltic

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I think you have to be careful what you wish for - ombudsmen that I'm familiar with are overwhelmed with cases and can take years to come to a decision. Those decisions are not always binding. Many issues in the rail industry are really for a regulator as they are breaches in operating licences. I would prefer a more proactive regulator with teeth that ensured TOCs met their franchise conditions.
 

matt_world2004

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It would be much better if an ombudsman concentrated on core consumer issues rather than niche ticket combinations which are almost the exclusive preserve of enthusiasts.

I would support an ombudsman and would prefer that Transport Focus were entirely scrapped and replaced by an ombudsman with minor enforcement powers (up to £500, say).

It is not nessescarily enthusiasts that get caught out by it though, if you travel on the same route enough times like most commuters do. then you are eventually going to research cheaper ticket options. Any such mystery shopper would also be monitoring other aspects of the customer service experiance.
 

IanXC

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As a comparison the Financial Ombudsman Service will take any complaint on a regulated matter, subject to certain time limits, so long as the financial institution has (a) issued it's written response on the matter, or (b) failed to do so within 8 weeks.

The FOS will change the institution for its 26th and onwards cases per year, a fee of £550 for each case (plus a supplementary fee of £350 for the 26th and onwards PPI case), regardless of the outcome.

The effect of this is for the financial institutions to be incentivised to resolve complaints to the satisfaction of consumers. At the margin the institution will defend complaints where the content summer is clearly wrong, particularly where the cost of settlement is over £550, as the FOS will publish figures on the number of complaints received and the breakdown of those where the consumers complaint has been upheld - keeping both numbers down is clearly the desirable objective for financial institutions.

As a result of all that the scheme is effectively self funding.
 

TheEdge

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I would go further, I would allow an ombudsman to mystery shop any route, they would do it with a valid, but complicated ticket combination , EG a split ticket an off peak ticket that is allowed to be used because of local easements and if they are refused boarding or threatened with prosecution, the TOC gets fined, or in cases of serious breaches. Loses its ability to prosecute ticketing offenses or issue penalty fares. Meaning all prosecutions for a ticket offence from this TOC need to be performed by a third party company (eg another, compliant TOC)

It will stop TOC's profiting through ignorance and will encourage guards to err on the side of the consumer on ticket combinations that they are not sure if they are valid or not

Do you actually know what the key point of an ombudsman is?

They are not a regulatory body in the normal sense, they are a mediator in conflict between consumer and company when the customer thinks the company has not dealt with complaints/issues correctly. They are by definition neutral. So an ombudsman could not go out after a TOC trying to catch them out.

The big issue I can see with a Railway Ombudsman is them being overwhelmed by the sort of silly complaints we see in the disputes forums, things like "I had to pay a full fare for travelling on the wrong train on my advance and Virgin won't give me all my money back and an all expenses paid holiday to Bermuda". If it existed it would really need to be somehow protected from all those sorts of complaints which would be an utter waste of time.
 

DarloRich

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I think the idea has merit in principle although in reality real teeth and a willingness to use them are whats needed to really get results.

Do you actually know what the key point of an ombudsman is?

They are not a regulatory body in the normal sense, they are a mediator in conflict between consumer and company when the customer thinks the company has not dealt with complaints/issues correctly. They are by definition neutral. So an ombudsman could not go out after a TOC trying to catch them out.

The big issue I can see with a Railway Ombudsman is them being overwhelmed by the sort of silly complaints we see in the disputes forums, things like "I had to pay a full fare for travelling on the wrong train on my advance and Virgin won't give me all my money back and an all expenses paid holiday to Bermuda". If it existed it would really need to be somehow protected from all those sorts of complaints which would be an utter waste of time.

Surely any ombudsmen has to filter out the crackpots. I bet they get loads of complaints that are groundless or vexatious. It is having the staff to do that filter allowing the more experienced people to crack on with the cases of merit that must be the key.
 

yorksrob

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I wonder if an Ombudsman would be able to look into diagramming and planning complaints. For example, could they get to the bottom of when trains are consistently overcrowded, even at times of the day when there are fewer services and stock should be available.

Would they be able to investigate a complaint about poorly planned connections ?
 

Busaholic

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I'm not necessarily averse to the principle, but I think that first all potential prosecutions for fare evasion should be removed from the hands of TOCs and be centralised in a division of Network Rail, to whom TOCs would have to make their case. I suspect one or two TOCs would find their wings clipped, which might be seen to be in the public interest. After this system is set up (I'm not holding my breath) then maybe the case for an Ombudsman will show itself, or not.
 

ainsworth74

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We don't hear much from the ORR. I wasn't aware it was still around.

Well, you didn't say you wanted an effective regulator! :lol:

The most public things that they get up to are things like deciding on Open Access applications (for instance the ECML ones back in May), being a part of the Network Rail Control Period system and looking after Railway Health & Safety (for example they brought a prosecution against WCRC over the Wooton Basset SPAD as well as banning them for a while).
 

3141

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The big issue I can see with a Railway Ombudsman is them being overwhelmed by the sort of silly complaints we see in the disputes forums.... If it existed it would really need to be somehow protected from all those sorts of complaints which would be an utter waste of time.

With millions of people travelling every day, the potential number of cases for an ombudsman to handle is huge, and we would quickly end up with a vast and expensive organisation.

It can be pleasant to dream about all the nice things that might be done (another example right now is the long thread about free travel for OAPs and the disabled), but they tend to be unproductive and expensive, and in my view unnecessary.
 

Master29

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Ainsworth 74 Quite what that`s that got to do with the railways I`m not sure but from your perspective a poor choice of question as yes, I have dealt with them and found a chocolate fireguard to be more useful. Self funded by who I`d like to know.
 
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IanXC

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I hesitate to mention the number of transactions, interactions and processing tasks undertaken in the financial services sector...
 
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