Most of us have found ourselves in the situation where we've had an important meeting, job interview or appointment to get to, only for the train to be delayed, or even cancelled.
So what are your rights if you find that your plans are scuppered thanks to a delayed or cancelled train? And how late does a train need to be to qualify for compensation?
The policies around compensation can change, but the following information is correct as of April 2018.
It almost goes without saying, but you are entitled to a full refund if your train was cancelled - no matter what type of ticket you bought.
How late does a train have to be to qualify for compensation?
It's important to remember that when you're determining how long the delay was, what matters is when you reach your destination, not when the train left the station.
Most UK train companies now offer compensation under the national Delay Repay scheme, although a few are still operating less generous compensation schemes according to their Passenger Charters.
Under Delay Repay, you are legally entitled to compensation of:
• 50% of the ticket price if you got to your destination between 30 minutes and an hour late• A full refund if you arrive more than one hour late
Some companies will also offer compensation if your train was more than 15 minutes late.
It doesn't matter whether you were travelling on a single or return ticket. If you have a season ticket, you should ask at your ticket office or check your train company’s website, as you will usually be able to get some money back.
The following companies adhere to Delay Repay:
• Abellio Greater Anglia• c2c (15-minute Delay Repay, also 2+ mins Automatic Delay Repay for smartcard holders)• Caledonian Sleeper• CrossCountry Trains• East Midlands Trains• Gatwick Express (15-minute Delay Repay)• Great Northern (15-minute Delay Repay, 15-minute Auto Delay Repay for smartcard holders)• Island Line (15-minute Delay Repay)• London Northwestern Railway (15-minute Delay Repay)• NI Railways• Northern (30-minute Automatic Delay Repay with advance tickets booked online)• ScotRail• Southeastern• Southern (15-minute Delay Repay)• South Western Railway (15-minute Delay Repay)• Stansted Express• Thameslink (15-minute Delay Repay, 15-minute Auto Delay Repay for smartcard holders)• Transpennine Express• Virgin East Coast• Virgin Trains (30-minute Automatic Delay Repay with advance tickets booked online)• West Midlands Railway (15-minute Delay Repay)
What if your train company doesn't follow Delay Repay?
There are still some train companies which do not currently operate a Delay Repay scheme. This makes the situation less clear, so you will need to check their individual policies.
However, all train companies must comply with the National Rail Conditions of Travel. Firms only have to start paying out for delays of at least an hour, and only if the delay was their fault.
If you arrived at your destination more than one hour late you are entitled to:
• 50% of the ticket price if you bought a single ticket• 25% of the ticket price if you bought a return ticket• 50% of the ticket price if you bought a return ticket and were delayed on both journeys for more than one hour
How to claim for compensation
You will need to claim from the train company which was running the delayed service, even if you booked the ticket via a different website, within 28 days of the delay.
You can do this by visiting the train company’s website, and most have online forms you can fill out. You’ll probably need to upload a picture of your ticket, so be sure to keep it.
Alternatively, you can write them a letter. You will need to include details of your journey, and send your original tickets. You should get a refund within a month.
Several train companies will offer vouchers to use on future train journeys, but you don’t have to accept them - if you want a cash refund, insist on it.
Check how late your train actually was
If you can't remember exactly how late your train was, you can use a useful online tool: the Recent Train Times website.
It's based on data from Network Rail for routes in England, Scotland and Wales and goes back three months.
What if there was engineering work?
To claim compensation under Delay Repay (or other arrangements) during engineering work you will need to be delayed long enough to qualify under that train company’s rules, based on the revised timetable they published, not the regular timetable.
This is not necessarily the case where engineering work overruns beyond this revised timetable. If this happens, you may be able to claim compensation based on the regular timetable, as long as your train company is signed up to Delay Repay.
What if there was a strike?
When a strike happens, often an emergency timetable will be put in place, and you can only claim compensation at this time for a delay based on the replacement or emergency timetable for train or replacement bus services.
Even then, you might only be eligible for compensation once you’ve boarded an alternative service and it’s delayed.
But the length of the delay you have to endure before you get offered a payout can vary massively from one company to the next.
You can’t claim compensation if operators didn’t run any services at all, but you can claim a refund if you have bought a ticket and the service was cancelled.
What if you didn't get to travel?
If your train was so late that you chose not to travel, or it was cancelled, you are entitled to a full refund, under the National Rail Conditions of Travel.
If you decide not to travel for another reason, you can usually get a refund minus the cost of an admin fee (up to £10).
Be warned that some tickets, such as Advance fares, are not refundable.
What if you're not happy with the train company's response?
If you are unsatisfied with the response from your train company you can take your complaint to Transport Focus.
They will take a second look at your claim and make an independent decision. They will expect you to have complained directly to the train company first.
A quick recap on the important points
Make sure to do the following if you're looking to make a claim:
• Check whether the train company's compensation policy is, and whether they belong to Delay Repay
• Take a note of the delay and the reason for it, then fill out the online compensation form on the train company website
• Keep your tickets, as you will either need to scan them or post them as evidence of your journey
• Apply within 28 days of your journey
• If you're not happy with the train company's response, raise it with Transport Focus