Now that consumer law applies, what happens if complimentary catering is unavailable?

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yorkie

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When looking at rail fares on Virgin Trains East Coast, I look at the price difference between 1st and standard, and then look at what the company says will be provided, and take that into account when booking.

From today, consumer law applies, including:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/section/50/enacted
50 (1) Every contract to supply a service is to be treated as including as a term of the contract anything that is said or written to the consumer, by or on behalf of the trader, about the trader or the service, if—

(a)it is taken into account by the consumer when deciding to enter into the contract, or
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/section/56/enacted
Right to price reduction

(1)The right to a price reduction is the right to require the trader to reduce the price to the consumer by an appropriate amount (including the right to receive a refund for anything already paid above the reduced amount).

(2)The amount of the reduction may, where appropriate, be the full amount of the price...
Virgin Trains East Coast states:
https://www.virgintrainseastcoast.c...nce/first-class/complimentary-food-and-drink/
Quick trip?

We’ll treat you to a complimentary light bite to eat and drink. If you’re with us a little longer, we’ll wine and dine you all the way.

If we’re particularly busy, we may need to substitute or change some menu items. On bank holidays, we offer our weekend menu.
and on subsequent pages, detail is given about the available offering.

If the customer has taken the complimentary food offering into account by the consumer when deciding to enter into the contract, and that is not available, then a partial refund clearly is due. But it's not clear how the amount should be calculated.


(This thread is not to discuss whether or not you are happy with consumer law or not, if you want to discuss that, you can make a new thread ;))
 
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yorkie

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Not surprisingly, I don't agree that a refund is due. The key word is 'complimentary' - so the amount extra paid for the catering is £0.

Edit: Now if there was a 1st class ticket that didn't include catering and one that did, you would be due the difference between the two fares.
You've misunderstood what consumer law says. If the customer has taken the complimentary food offering into account by the consumer when deciding to enter into the contract, and that is not available, then a partial refund clearly is due. The question is how much...
 

me123

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"We'll" is a contraction of the words "We Will". I think therefore that you would have a reasonable case. I'd agree with najaB that complimentary ("given at no extra charge") does muddy the waters slightly, but if you are not offered catering there is a stark difference between the advertised product (we will treat you...we will wine and dine you) and what you have received. There is a reference to substitutions, but no reference to withdrawal of the offer. Any reasonable person would board the train expecting the service advertised.

I suspect that someone on here will give it a try before long. Be interesting what the TOCs have to say when faced with quotes from legislation.

As for how much... maybe 50% of the difference between the FC fare and appropriate SC fare? I'm valuing 50% of the FC experience on complimentary food and 50% on the seat/ambiance/lack of riff raff and I suspect that many will disagree, but I think it covers all bases.
 
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greatkingrat

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That means the value of the catering is included in the cost of the ticket, not that the catering has no value.

Let's say you go to a restaurant which advertises a free glass of wine with every meal. If you order your meal and only get given a glass of tap water, you would expect a refund, regardless of the fact the wine was "free".
 

ainsworth74

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My contract would be with VTEC and VTEC have an advertised catering service. If they fail to provide the service my complaint would be with them and their advertised service.
 

me123

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Just another thought... even if the value of the meal delivered by VTEC is £0, there's no denying that it comes at a cost to them. I'm sure their suppliers aren't food banks. If the meal is not offered, the cost to them is removed. I realise that this is a great oversimplification - if there's no catering due to lack of staff then the food would still be there for example, but in essence they have paid for the food to be provided and it is not valueless.

So at the very least, you should expect the value of the food refunded (i.e. the cost price to VTEC). That could be very revealing...
 

CarlSilva

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Start with how much it would cost elsewhere, as in a restaurant or cafe if you had to pay for the light bite to eat and drink, or if on the train for long enough, the cost of a bottle of wine and dinner.
 

LowLevel

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Not surprisingly, I don't agree that a refund is due. The key word is 'complimentary' - so the amount extra paid for the catering is £0.

Edit: Now if there was a 1st class ticket that didn't include catering and one that did, you would be due the difference between the two fares.
I can tell you the train operators disagree with your interpretation and are concerned over everything from service delays to provision of seat reservations and advertised trolley services. We've had quite a few emails about it.

I don't know exactly how they are planning to compensate however the words 'demand full refund' have been mentioned several times.
 
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matt_world2004

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I would expect a refund to be the cost they charge standard customers for the catering.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
do virgin trains staff entitled to free first class travel also get free catering? if they have to pay a supplement for the catering then that supplement should provide a cost for the catering. They are unlikely to get the catering for free because there would be a tax benefit in kind liability
 

hairyhandedfool

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....So, clearly, if VTEC do not supply the catering offer for any reason, a partial refund must be offered. But it's not clear what that should be.

Any thoughts on how consumer law should be interpreted in this case?....
The same way seat reservations are dealt with?
 

TUC

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As long as VTEC have explained in their relevant literature that there is no gurantee of catering being available, or words to that effect, that should effectively protect them contractually from any claims.
 
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Solent&Wessex

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From a brief:

ATOC said:
Customers might ask about the CRA when services are delayed or cancelled, or if they did not
receive a service that they expected (such as catering or Wi-Fi).

For delays and cancellations, you should follow the normal guidance for a Passenger’s Charter
claim. If they are asking about a claim because they did not get a seat or other facilities that were
advertised, you should advise customers to write to the appropriate customer services address.

If they have paid for an additional service that they did not receive, then they would normally (as
now) be entitled to a refund of this. If the extra service was complimentary than normally no
refund will be paid but as with other claims, these will need to be assessed on a case by case
basis.
 

AM9

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From a brief:
That just reflects a position before the change in the law. It wouldn't stand up to a challenge now for the reasons stated upthread.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
As long as VTEC have explained in their relevant literature that there is no gurantee of catering being available, or words to that effect, that should effectively protect them contractually from any claims.
Such an arbitrary enticement would be subject to ASA challenges. Either there is an offer or there isn't, not 'here's a treat if we can be bothered to provide it once we have your commitment to the contrct'.
 

Solent&Wessex

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That just reflects a position before the change in the law. It wouldn't stand up to a challenge now for the reasons stated upthread.
This was from the ATOC / RDG brief about the change in the law and how it now affects things.
 

DaveNewcastle

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Not surprisingly, I don't agree that a refund is due. The key word is 'complimentary' - so the amount extra paid for the catering is £0.
Chapter Four of the CRA 2015 is headed "What services contracts are covered" [sic] and Section 48 notes :
CRA 2015 said:
48 Contracts covered by this Chapter.
. . .
(3)In relation to Scotland, this Chapter does not apply to a gratuitous contract.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
Either there is an offer or there isn't, not 'here's a treat if we can be bothered to provide it once we have your commitment to the contrct'.
That maybe so, but that is not how I read down the 'complimentary' offering on VTEC, though I do find the phrasing of VTEC's offering to be lacking in clarity over the risk of non-availability.
 
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richw

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They will probably change wording from 'will' to 'may' at some point.
'Will' is a given that they will provide that service therefore its reasonable for a customer to take that as a reason solely to upgrade from standard to First when making a decision. If that customer solely decided to travel first rather than standard because of the catering it could be argued they are entitled to a refund for the difference in product they would have chosen if the catering wasn't offered and included within ticket price.
 

Blindtraveler

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Nowhere near enough to a Pacer :(
I think if I was a TOC manager faced with this Id possibly give anyone who challenges it a free coffee and bicky and pray.

It certainly woant be easy for them if anyone does querie it as personally Im with Yorkie here and think that there is an entitlement to something?
 

AngusH

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A cynical solution would to be to keep a few large boxes of those small catering size biscuit packs located on the train somewhere.
(The kind with 2 biscuits in a plastic pack)

If all other attempts at catering have failed, hand one out to each passenger.
If even that fails, put the box at some convenient point and ask people to help themselves.

It would be a way to make sure that some "catering" is always available.
 

CyrusWuff

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The supplement for staff travel holders to accept the food and drinks is £5 - so there's the value that VTEC give their "free" offer
Or that's the (nominal) value they give it in an attempt to stop HMRC from classing it as a (taxable) benefit...
 

Blindtraveler

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Nowhere near enough to a Pacer :(
Working on that basis then, perhaps each toc with complimentary food and drinks simply needs to give Vistaprint a ring and get a job lot of vouchers to the value of 5 quid run off for use at the buffet/standard trolley or redeamable toward a slap up feed at an SSP outlet at the arrival station
 

AM9

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They will probably change wording from 'will' to 'may' at some point.
'Will' is a given that they will provide that service therefore its reasonable for a customer to take that as a reason solely to upgrade from standard to First when making a decision. If that customer solely decided to travel first rather than standard because of the catering it could be argued they are entitled to a refund for the difference in product they would have chosen if the catering wasn't offered and included within ticket price.
I agree but 'may' sounds a bit like a lottery which would devalue the offer and possibly subject the TOC to ridicule in the media. That would hardly be much use as an incentive to upgrade and far more costly in goodwill than ensuring adequate refund/compensation on the few occasions that they fail to provide catering.
 

Master29

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Don`t VTEC say in their booklet if we are unable to offer you what you want we will provide an alternative.
 

All Line Rover

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Let's say you go to a restaurant which advertises a free glass of wine with every meal. If you order your meal and only get given a glass of tap water, you would expect a refund, regardless of the fact the wine was "free".
Nail. On. Head.

The trouble with first class catering is that the majority of passengers are unable to change their plans to take account of catering shortages. It is incomparable to, say, a restaurant which offers free a child meal with every adult meal running out of child meals, where a patron can either accept the change or leave for another restaurant. Almost every rail passenger will have purchased a ticket before becoming aware of any catering shortages.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
The key word is 'complimentary' - so the amount extra paid for the catering is £0.
The Consumer Rights Act is concerned with the behaviour that induces consumers to enter into contracts. Describing a part of the product or service as "complimentary" or "free" does not necessarily mean that the "complimentary" or "free" product does not serve as an inducement, nor has it ever meant that.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
Or just adding the words "subject to availability", as included in many other offers
"Subject to availability" is not necessarily a cop out to cover nothing being provided. It could equally well mean that the exact advertised menu is not guaranteed but appropriate substitutions will be offered.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
Hence I would argue 50% to be a relatively uncontroversial sum. I'm sure that there are people who go FC purely for the food and drink, and I know that many don't really care about the refreshments (I was quite surprised on my last VTEC trip just how many people didn't take anything). So the 50% kind of covers all bases.
Other than the occasional passenger on the WAG Express, I don't think there is any passenger who travels first class purely for the food and drink. Every first class passenger benefits from the transportation from their origin to their destination, the more spacious seating, first class lounges (often), etc. Unless a passenger contracts for a rail ticket on the express understanding that their reason for travelling is for the food and drink (other than where the food and drink is a very substantial part of the overall offering, as on the WAG Express), I think a 20% refund would be reasonable. In the case of a low value ticket (e.g. a £50 First AP from London to Manchester), this reflects the fact that the majority of the value of the ticket is to cover the transportation itself. In the case of a high value ticket (e.g. a £250-ish FOS from London to Manchester), this reflects the fact that the high value of the ticket primarily reflects the flexibility it offers and not the catering. No one could seriously argue that the level of catering offered in first class by Virgin Trains, either West Coast or East Coast, is worth more than £50!
 
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