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

Discussion in 'Fares Advice & Policy' started by yorkie, 1 Oct 2016.

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  1. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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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
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/section/56/enacted
    Virgin Trains East Coast states:
    https://www.virgintrainseastcoast.c...nce/first-class/complimentary-food-and-drink/
    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 ;))
     
    Last edited: 13 Feb 2018
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  3. yorkie

    yorkie Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    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...
     
  4. me123

    me123 Established Member

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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.
     
    Last edited: 1 Oct 2016
  5. greatkingrat

    greatkingrat Established Member

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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".
     
  6. ainsworth74

    ainsworth74 Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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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.
     
  7. me123

    me123 Established Member

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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...
     
  8. CarlSilva

    CarlSilva Member

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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.
     
  9. LowLevel

    LowLevel Established Member

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    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.
     
    Last edited: 1 Oct 2016
  10. matt_world2004

    matt_world2004 Established Member

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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
     
  11. ainsworth74

    ainsworth74 Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There is a supplement to pay but I'm not sure how much it is .
     
  12. hairyhandedfool

    hairyhandedfool Established Member

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    The same way seat reservations are dealt with?
     
  13. TUC

    TUC Established Member

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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.
     
    Last edited: 1 Oct 2016
  14. Solent&Wessex

    Solent&Wessex Established Member

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    From a brief:

     
  15. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

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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.
    --- old post above --- --- new post below ---
    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'.
     
  16. Solent&Wessex

    Solent&Wessex Established Member

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    This was from the ATOC / RDG brief about the change in the law and how it now affects things.
     
  17. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

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    And has it been tested yet?
     
  18. DaveNewcastle

    DaveNewcastle Established Member Fares Advisor

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    Chapter Four of the CRA 2015 is headed "What services contracts are covered" [sic] and Section 48 notes :
    --- old post above --- --- new post below ---
    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.
     
    Last edited: 1 Oct 2016
  19. richw

    richw Established Member

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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.
     
  20. Llanigraham

    Llanigraham On Moderation

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    Or just adding the words "subject to availability", as included in many other offers
     
  21. Busaholic

    Busaholic Established Member

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    More work for the lawyers. Doh!
     
  22. Blindtraveler

    Blindtraveler Established Member

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    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?
     
  23. AngusH

    AngusH Member

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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.
     
  24. jopsuk

    jopsuk Veteran Member

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    I reckon it'll take a test case to truly shake it out.
     
  25. ag51ruk

    ag51ruk Member

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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
     
  26. AngusH

    AngusH Member

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    That seems a small enough figure that they could probably just refund it to anyone who complained...
     
  27. CyrusWuff

    CyrusWuff Established Member

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    Or that's the (nominal) value they give it in an attempt to stop HMRC from classing it as a (taxable) benefit...
     
  28. Blindtraveler

    Blindtraveler Established Member

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    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
     
  29. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

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    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.
     
  30. Master29

    Master29 Established Member

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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.
     
  31. All Line Rover

    All Line Rover Established Member

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    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 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 ---
    "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 ---
    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!
     
    Last edited: 2 Oct 2016
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