Rail travel - your rights
- This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales
When you buy a train ticket you are making a contract for the provision of a rail travel service with the train companies that are covered by the ticket. If you buy your ticket via a licensed trader, the train company remains liable to you to fulfil the terms of the contract and provide you with the rail travel service that you have paid for.
In addition to your statutory rights, you have rights and obligations that are set out in the National Rail Conditions of Travel and each train company's Passenger's Charter.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you rights when you make a contract with a trader for the supply of goods, services and digital content. In the case of rail travel, you are making a contract with a train company for the provision of a service and you have the following key rights:
- the service must be carried out with 'reasonable care and skill'. For example, a failure to provide food in the first class carriages when it was part of the contract may be considered a failure to carry out the service with reasonable care and skill
- 'information about a trader or service' is legally binding. Anything said or written down by a train company (or someone acting on their behalf) about themselves or the service forms part of the contract, if you take the information into consideration before you agree the contract or if you make a decision about the service after the contract is made
- 'reasonable price' to be paid. You are required to pay only a 'reasonable' price for the service unless the price (or the way in which the price is worked out) is fixed as part of the contract
- the service must be carried out within a 'reasonable time', if time is not fixed by the contract
If you enter a rail travel contract after a train company or a licensed trader misled you or because they used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. These rights are in addition to your rights and obligations set out in the National Rail Conditions of Travel. The guide 'Misleading & aggressive practices: rights to redress' gives more information.
Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, which were amended by the Payment Services Regulations 2017, traders are banned from imposing surcharges on consumers for using the following payment methods:
- credit, debit or charge cards
- e-payment services such as PayPal
- Apple Pay, Android Pay or other similar payment methods
Traders can impose a surcharge for other methods of payment, but the amount must not be excessive; it must reflect the actual cost to the trader of processing the payment. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts, including rail travel.
The Regulations give you rights to redress. Any requirement to pay a banned surcharge, or the part of a surcharge that is excessive, is unenforceable by the trader. This means you do not have to pay. If you have already paid the surcharge or the excess, you are entitled to a refund.
If you have a complaint about surcharges, report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
'National Rail Conditions of Travel'
The rights you have when you travel on scheduled train services on the national rail network are set out in the 'National Rail Conditions of Travel'. Some of the key conditions are summarised below:
You must have a valid ticket to travel before you board a train. In some circumstances, you can buy a ticket during or at the end of a journey - for example, if you cannot purchase a ticket at the station. Tickets are available from staffed ticket offices, self-service ticket machines, from the train companies and from third-party traders online, and by telephone. If you do not have a valid ticket, you may be liable to pay a penalty fare, or be charged a full undiscounted anytime single fare to a station served by the train that you are on; you could also be prosecuted.
Tickets may specify:
- that they are only valid to use on a certain company's trains
- the time period in which you can use the ticket
- travel restrictions
- any restrictions that prevent you from using a combination of two or more tickets to make a journey
- the route you are entitled to take
- that a railcard must be produced (if the tickets were bought using a railcard)
- that a photocard or other form of identification must be produced (season tickets, self-print tickets, electronic tickets, etc)
Children under the age of five can travel free of charge with a passenger holding a valid ticket or other authority to travel. Children aged between five and 15 years must travel with a valid ticket but are entitled to a child discount on most tickets.
You cannot use first class carriages with a standard class ticket unless train company staff or notices on the train give you specific permission. However, you may be able to upgrade your ticket.
If you want to break your journey, or perhaps finish the journey on a different day, most tickets allow you to do so. Check for any travel or ticket restrictions beforehand.
Sometimes rail replacement services - replacing a trail with a bus or coach - are in operation because of engineering work. You should be informed at the time you buy your ticket if there will be a rail replacement service in operation to allow you to decide whether to travel or not. If a rail replacement service operates at short notice and you cannot travel by road because your luggage, animals, articles or cycles cannot be transported, you are entitled to claim a refund on your ticket.
YOUR RIGHT TO A REFUND
If you have not used your ticket to make all or part of your journey because you decided not to travel, you can apply for a refund (or part-refund for the unused part of the ticket) from the train company or the licensed trader within 28 days of the expiry of the ticket. An administration fee of up to £10 per ticket may be made and you should receive a refund within one month from the date your application was received.
If the train is cancelled, delayed or your reservation will not be honoured and you choose not to travel, you can return your ticket to the train company or licensed trader for a refund; an administration fee will not be charged. You must make your claim within 28 days of the intended travel date and you should receive your refund within 14 days of it being agreed by the train company. If you bought your ticket immediately before travel, you should be able to get a refund straight away from the ticket office.
If you no longer require a season ticket, you may be entitled to claim a refund from the train company or third party trader. However, seven-day season tickets must have at least three days validity remaining and season tickets valid for one month or more must have at least seven days validity remaining. The National Rail Conditions of Travel set out the method for calculating the refund.
YOUR RIGHT TO COMPENSATION FOR DELAYS
If you cannot complete your journey due to a cancellation, delay or another form of disruption, any train company, when it is able to do so, will provide an alternative means to get you to your destination or provide you with overnight accommodation.
When delays, cancellations or poor service occur you are entitled to compensation, as long as the problems are within the control of the train company or rail service company. This is set out in the train company's Passenger's Charter. Each train company determines the level of compensation it pays, but the minimum amount for a delay of more than 60 minutes is set out below:
Type of ticket Amount of compensation single ticket or return ticket with delay on both the outward and return trip 50% of the price paid return ticket (delay on outward or return trip) 50% of the price paid for the part of the trip that was delayed season ticket check the discount / compensation arrangements in the train company's Passenger's Charter
You can ask for money compensation, which may be paid by cheque, bank transfer or credit card, or for compensation to be paid in rail vouchers.
If you wish to make a claim against a train company or rail service provider for personal injury or any loss or damage to property, or any other complaint, write to them. If the claim is against another train company or another party, the train company you have written to will forward the details on.
If the delay was caused by events outside the rail industry's control, the train company may not have to pay compensation. You can find more information on these exclusions in each train company's Passenger's Charter.
PASSENGERS WITH DISABILITIES
If you have a disability or if you need extra help, the train company will provide specific assistance upon request and without extra charge. This can include using wheelchair ramps to board / exit a train. The National Rail Conditions of Travel recommend that 24 hours' advance notice is given to the relevant train company if assistance is required, but help will be offered even when no advance booking has been made.
Train companies' Passenger's Charter
All train companies must have a Passenger's Charter that sets out what their commitments are to their passengers. Train companies may give you additional rights to those you are entitled to expect under the National Rail Conditions of Travel. You can find a list of train operating companies on the National Rail Enquiries website.
Most train companies operate a 'delay repay' scheme and details can be found in their Passenger's Charter. Some companies will pay compensation for delays over 30 minutes at a level that is higher than the minimum required under the National Rail Conditions of Travel regardless of the cause of the delay.
Some train companies operate a 'seat reservation compensation' scheme. If you reserve a seat and it is not available and an alternative seat cannot be found on the train then you may be able to claim compensation in accordance with the Passenger's Charter. Where possible, ensure your ticket and seat reservation slip are endorsed by the train guard as proof.
What to do if you have a complaint:
- read the National Rail Conditions of Travel and the train company's Passenger's Charter. The Passenger's Charter should have details of the train company's complaints procedure
- complain to the train company and give them the opportunity to respond. If you complain by phone follow up with an email or letter so you have evidence of your complaint
- give a full explanation of your complaint, including the details of the journey and how much you paid (send a copy of your ticket), what the nature of your complaint is, what you would like the train company to do and by when
- keep copies of emails and letters that you send and also replies that you receive. See the guide 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' for more information
My complaint has not been resolved: what can I do?
If you have reached deadlock with the train company and your complaint has not been resolved you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer service; you can also contact:
- Transport Focus
(online complaint form available)
0300 123 2350
- London TravelWatch
Other useful contacts
- Office of Rail and Road
- National Rail Enquiries
(online help section)
Tel: 03457 484950
- Key legislation
- Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
- Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012
- Consumer Rights Act 2015
- Payment Services Regulations 2017
Last reviewed / updated: October 2019
- Please note
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
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