I can speak from bitter experience when I say that my last few months of national train travel have been unmitigated disasters. Cancelled trains, sitting in aisles, being stranded on windswept, Winter platforms. It’s been no fun.

But on many occasions, I’ve not been able to get on the trains at all. This is totally unacceptable and the whole concept of compensation for inconvenience and ‘consequential’ loss – money you lose as a direct loss of a service not being provided – needs to be addressed urgently by the Government and regulators.

However, we are where we are – and it is possible to get refunds for cancelled or delayed trains. And that includes proportional refunds on season tickets. Here’s how it works.

Train refunds, the basics

If you’ve paid for advance tickets or passes, then you should be able to get a refund if a train is cancelled or delayed, but how that process works depends on the individual rail companies, who have all the details on their websites. This is known as ‘delay/repay’.

However, very few train firms automatically refund you. In fact, many make you jump through a zillion hoops to get your cash back. There’s no reason why you should have to upload your tickets, train times, arrival times and more to get a refund when the train operator has your details on most occasions.

Don’t give up though. Millions of pounds are left unclaimed every year, so why not use your time on the platform or late train claiming back your money! You may also find a (well hidden) option to sign up for auto refunds in future.

Why do some train firms decline refunds?

According to Network Rail:

If your service has been cancelled, delayed or rescheduled, you may be entitled to a fee-free change or refund from the original retailer of your ticket. 

If you have advance tickets and can’t – or chose not to – travel because of the industrial action you should be able to get your money back. But train operators have a few caveats to this, which is why the National Rail statement features the word ‘may’ when mentioning refunds.

When strikes happen, some train operators say they will allow you to use your ticket on their services instead – as happened recently over the Christmas carnage when I was told to travel from Manchester via Leeds to get to London. Occasionally, there may be rail replacement or emergency services available.

I’ve gone through the T&Cs on some train websites, many of which say they will only pay out if you can’t travel or are delayed when taking these alternative services.

In addition, some readers have told me that their train operators claim that they are only a few minutes late when it’s been ages, or that a refund isn’t applicable because they got on another service. This isn’t realistic or fair, so make a formal complaint if this is what you are told.  You can also make a complaint to the Rail Ombudsman.

One final word of warning. There have been lots of horror stories lately about large admin fees charged by Trainline that are being deducted from delay repay compensation. I’m currently investigating this, but if in doubt, go direct to the rail firm for your refund.

What about season tickets?

Again, in theory, you can claim a refund for season or flexi-season tickets where you can’t travel too. The way this is calculated is pro-rata and is rather complex and varies by business, but again, you can start the process through the train operator website. Outrageously, some charge an admin fee of up to £10 though.

Ask the train operator to explain how they have worked out the compensation and cross reference this method with the website if you don’t think you’ve been treated fairly.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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