Transport committee chair warns many passengers will not be refunded

Merriman expressed particular concern about the fairness of refunds where the ticket is close to its expiry date

Huw Merriman, the chair of the transport select committee, has written to the transport secretary Grant Shapps, to call for a better deal for rail season ticket holders whose usual journeys have been cancelled by the outbreak of coronavirus.

The committee argues that unless the changes are made, many passengers will not receive any recompense at all for circumstances beyond their control. The committee is also calling on the government and industry to allow rail season ticket holders to receive full, pro-rata refunds for the time remaining on their tickets; Also allow them to “pause” their ticket while the government’s advice to work from home applies and resume them at a later date; and
waive the administration fee traditionally levied for refunds.

Merriman expressed particular concern about the fairness of season ticket refunds where the ticket is close to its expiry date. Season ticket refunds are not calculated on a pro-rata basis because of the discounted rates that apply to them. The discount on a season ticket means that in the normal course of events, the holder receives 12 weeks’ ‘free travel’.

“To get any money refunded from a weekly ticket you need at least three days left, and at least seven days left on a monthly,” said the Conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle. “Annual tickets usually have little or no refund value after 40 weeks, which is about 10 months.

“In ordinary times, when a commuter decides to cancel their discounted season ticket, it is fair enough that they should not receive a full refund for not using all of the discounted ticket. However, commuters doing the right thing and staying home and saving lives should not be financially penalised for following the government’s advice.”

Merriman pointed to the example of someone commuting into London from his constituency. The annual cost of a season ticket is £6,176.

He continued: “The lockdown was announced on 23 March and for commuters whose Travelcards are due to expire on 23 May but cannot travel during those two months, they may expect to receive £1,029 – but they stand to get little or nothing unless the rules change. For those nearer the start of their annual ticket, it is not such an issue.

“I’ve long been vocal about some of the inadequacies of our rail compensation system. However, to apply it now, and for commuters to be financially disadvantaged, when they have heeded the calls and followed Government instructions, cannot be right. I am confident we can get the message through and drive change.”

Appearing before the transport select committee on April 7, rail minister Chris Heaton Harris, undertook to consider Merriman’s idea that commuters could choose to extend their season tickets once passengers are able to travel again, rather than lose out from the compensation rules.

Merriman’s letter to Shapps can be read here.