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Author Topic: Rail Ombudsman launched - 26th November 2018  (Read 30722 times)
JayMac
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« on: November 26, 2018, 04:55:49 am »

https://www.railombudsman.org

After what seems like much delay since the idea was first raised in mid 2015, following consultation in the transport sector on the Consumer Rights Act, a Rail Ombudsman service finally starts today. A private members bill was put before Parliament in December 2016. Parliament decided against legislation and asked the Rail Delivery Group to set up a service. The go-ahead was given in February 2018, and a service provider appointed in July 2018.

I suppose a long delay in introducing the scheme was to be expected. This is the rail industry after all.

It's worth noting here also that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 transport sector consultation also proposed compensation for delays of 15 minutes or more across the rail sector. That still hasn't been achieved, with only a handful of TOCs (Train Operating Company) currently offering it. And of course there is still one major TOC that hasn't even introduced the supposed industry standard Delay Repay, despite it being a proviso of their franchise agreement of March 2015. That being our very own GWR (Great Western Railway). The agreement spoke of "good faith" and "intention" to introduce Delay Repay on GWR by September 2017. And yet it's still not implemented.

Back to the Ombudsman. From the Guardian:

Quote
New ombudsman gives rail commuters a fast track for complaints

Regulator criticised for not tackling issues such as rising fares or complicated tariffs

Figures show fewer than half of the rail passengers who complained last year were satisfied with the response, but only 1.1% moved to an appeal process. Passengers dissatisfied with how train companies handle complaints can now appeal to an independent arbiter, as a new rail ombudsman service comes into force today. The ombudsman will have binding powers over train firms should it uphold a customer complaint.

But the service has been criticised by Labour as toothless and unable to tackle important issues facing passengers such as rocketing fares and complicated pricing tariffs that vary from one operator to another.

The ombudsman will focus on providing a free service to passengers objecting to an operator’s response, or if a complaint has not been resolved within 40 days. Train companies both fund the ombudsman and have agreed to abide by its rulings. The Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators, said it showed the industry was trying to “uphold the highest standards” in its complaints processes which have come under criticism from consumer groups. According to data from the Office of Rail and Road, fewer than half of rail passengers who complained last year felt their issues received an adequate response, although only 1.1% of complaints ended up in an appeal process.

The ombudsman will deal primarily with disputes about delayed trains and passenger compensation.

More than £80m was paid out in 2017-18 to passengers for delays – a figure that is likely to have escalated significantly following the timetable chaos in May this year, which saw thousands of services cancelled and severely delayed. But a Department for Transport study published last month found that only 39% of eligible passengers claimed compensation for delays, with most of the rest saying it was not worth the time and effort.

Andrew Jones, the new rail minister, said: “This is a significant step forward for passengers’ rights. This independent ombudsman will make sure passengers are heard and that they get a fair deal when train companies fall short. Rail firms must take this opportunity to improve their complaints process and to increase customer satisfaction.”

Labour however gave a muted welcome. Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said: “With over 50m products, the UK (United Kingdom) rail fare system is probably one of the most complex in the world. Passengers urgently need simpler and more affordable fares. The rail ombudsman’s voluntary code and limited powers will do little to address these problems.”

The service will be provided by a private company, the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman, which has so far concentrated on consumer disputes in the furniture and removals sector.

Anthony Smith, the chief executive of the passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said the service was “a welcome step forward for rail passengers” that would improve complaints handling. He added: “We will continue to deal with many issues raised by passengers that fall outside the remit of this scheme and we will monitor closely the way the ombudsman operates to make sure it really works for passengers.”

Alex Hayman of the consumer group Which?, which has highlighted problems with the process, said the launch of the ombudsman was “a positive step for passengers, who have felt for too long like their complaints are not being taken seriously”.


I remain to be convinced that an Ombudsman set up and funded by the rail industry's own talking shop, the Rail Delivery Group, and provided by a body with no experience in the transport sector, will be much of an improvement in dealing with passenger complaints. I hope I'm wrong but this service should have been backed by legislation. There will be no oversight or teeth, as the train operators won't face any legal consequences for failing to meet Ombudsman decisions. There is no explanation I can find on the Rail Ombudsman website that explains what 'binding' means, nor any details of what censure TOCs face if they fail to adhere to the Ombudsman's decisions or timescales.

I don't doubt that the people appointed to run the service are well versed in dealing with consumer complaints, I just have concerns about how those decisions will be enforced if they favour the consumer.

I also hope the long delay in implementating the service has allowed for sufficient training in the intracacies of the operator/passenger relationship, the byzantine fares system (will routine overcharging be addressed for example?) and I hope the Ombudsman can drive up customer service standards across the industry. If it only focuses on getting passengers delay compensation that has been refused then I'm doubtful it will achieve much.

https://www.railombudsman.org
« Last Edit: November 26, 2018, 05:01:07 am by bignosemac » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: November 26, 2018, 09:23:58 am »

Also made the BBC» (British Broadcasting Corporation - home page) - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46338581

Quite a long piece

Quote
Rail passengers who are unhappy about how their complaints have been handled will be able to appeal via a service launched on Monday.

The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman is an independent body designed to hold train companies to account.
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ChrisB
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« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2018, 09:33:01 am »

I have the same fears....Furniture Ombudsman offshoot...little synergy there, but they won the tender apparently.
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2018, 06:28:49 pm »

It'll certainly give GWR (Great Western Railway) pause for thought on the delays in replying to correspondence/complaints/compensation claims that have been ongoing for 2 years now - one of any Ombudsman's focus is unreasonable length of time taken to resolve customer issues.

I've worked in several sectors where I've had to work with Ombudsman Services and my experience is that they tend to be fair to all parties but tenacious on behalf of the customer and rigorous in their scrutiny of the service providers - the individuals doing the investigation don't have to be expert in the sector to achieve this successfully - the rail companies will be expected to cooperate fully and with an "open book" attitude if they wish to avoid censure.
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« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2018, 09:13:26 pm »

I hope that the optimists are right. I was told some years ago that in local government the most feared action by an aggrieved person was a referral to the ombudsman. It would subject them to thorough scrutiny and a published report which will not spare them if there has been maladministration.

Publication of outcomes and an annual report on each TOC (Train Operating Company) summarising the failings revealed by the past year's findings, to be taken into account in the franchise awarding process would be helpful. If DfT» (Department for Transport - about)/ORR» (Office of Rail and Road formerly Office of Rail Regulation - about) could be persuaded to use this as the basis for putting forward (and enforcing) suitable improvement plans based on such reports, so much the better. Too much to hope for? 
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #5 on: November 26, 2018, 09:29:35 pm »

I hope that the optimists are right. I was told some years ago that in local government the most feared action by an aggrieved person was a referral to the ombudsman. It would subject them to thorough scrutiny and a published report which will not spare them if there has been maladministration.

Publication of outcomes and an annual report on each TOC (Train Operating Company) summarising the failings revealed by the past year's findings, to be taken into account in the franchise awarding process would be helpful. If DfT» (Department for Transport - about)/ORR» (Office of Rail and Road formerly Office of Rail Regulation - about) could be persuaded to use this as the basis for putting forward (and enforcing) suitable improvement plans based on such reports, so much the better. Too much to hope for? 

You're absolutely right re: Local Government Ombudsman, and I have seen at first hand the consequences of a (justified) finding of maladministration which involved the sudden retirement of one very senior manager & an invitation to another that he was free to utilise his talents elsewhere. With his P45.

Let's hope the Rail Ombudsman has similarly sharp teeth.
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« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2018, 10:39:49 am »

It's worth noting here also that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 transport sector consultation also proposed compensation for delays of 15 minutes or more across the rail sector. That still hasn't been achieved, with only a handful of TOCs (Train Operating Company) currently offering it. And of course there is still one major TOC that hasn't even introduced the supposed industry standard Delay Repay, despite it being a proviso of their franchise agreement of March 2015. That being our very own GWR (Great Western Railway). The agreement spoke of "good faith" and "intention" to introduce Delay Repay on GWR by September 2017. And yet it's still not implemented.

Being implemented by GWR early next year.
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JayMac
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« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2018, 11:03:08 am »

It's worth noting here also that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 transport sector consultation also proposed compensation for delays of 15 minutes or more across the rail sector. That still hasn't been achieved, with only a handful of TOCs (Train Operating Company) currently offering it. And of course there is still one major TOC that hasn't even introduced the supposed industry standard Delay Repay, despite it being a proviso of their franchise agreement of March 2015. That being our very own GWR (Great Western Railway). The agreement spoke of "good faith" and "intention" to introduce Delay Repay on GWR by September 2017. And yet it's still not implemented.

Being implemented by GWR early next year.

Excellent news, and not before time. Any quotable source for that?
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« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2018, 11:06:39 am »

It's worth noting here also that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 transport sector consultation also proposed compensation for delays of 15 minutes or more across the rail sector. That still hasn't been achieved, with only a handful of TOCs (Train Operating Company) currently offering it. And of course there is still one major TOC that hasn't even introduced the supposed industry standard Delay Repay, despite it being a proviso of their franchise agreement of March 2015. That being our very own GWR (Great Western Railway). The agreement spoke of "good faith" and "intention" to introduce Delay Repay on GWR by September 2017. And yet it's still not implemented.

Being implemented by GWR early next year.

Excellent news, and not before time. Any quotable source for that?

I have it from senior people within GWR / been in planning for quite a while.    Of course, at that level of promise one or two things have slipped in the past;  I too would be interested to see a quotable source.
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« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2018, 11:14:29 am »

From Mark Hopwood in a staff briefing.  Not sure if it’s straight to the 15 minute version though.
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« Reply #10 on: November 29, 2018, 04:53:00 pm »

From Mark Hopwood in a staff briefing.  Not sure if it’s straight to the 15 minute version though.

Mark Hopwood and communication in the same sentence? I feel sick.
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TaplowGreen
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« Reply #11 on: November 29, 2018, 05:15:24 pm »

From Mark Hopwood in a staff briefing.  Not sure if it’s straight to the 15 minute version though.

Mark Hopwood and communication in the same sentence? I feel sick.

I expect it was a virtual Mark Hopwood, or a hologram.......or maybe via a note shoved out from under the Boardroom door?
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Robin Summerhill
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« Reply #12 on: November 30, 2018, 05:58:25 pm »

I hope that the optimists are right. I was told some years ago that in local government the most feared action by an aggrieved person was a referral to the ombudsman. It would subject them to thorough scrutiny and a published report which will not spare them if there has been maladministration.

Publication of outcomes and an annual report on each TOC (Train Operating Company) summarising the failings revealed by the past year's findings, to be taken into account in the franchise awarding process would be helpful. If DfT» (Department for Transport - about)/ORR» (Office of Rail and Road formerly Office of Rail Regulation - about) could be persuaded to use this as the basis for putting forward (and enforcing) suitable improvement plans based on such reports, so much the better. Too much to hope for? 

You're absolutely right re: Local Government Ombudsman, and I have seen at first hand the consequences of a (justified) finding of maladministration which involved the sudden retirement of one very senior manager & an invitation to another that he was free to utilise his talents elsewhere. With his P45.

Let's hope the Rail Ombudsman has similarly sharp teeth.

After reading some of the (other) posts on this thread it appears that many folk may not fully understand the role of an Ombudsman. I spent 9 years (1995 to 2004) as a Formal Complaints Officer for a Housing Association and as such was the officer who got the "stick" from both the Housing Ombudsman and the tenants who made the complaints. I felt that the overridingly important point was to resolve complaints before they got anywhere near the Ombudsman, and in those 9 years I only had 3 complaints that the Ombudsman took on, and of those I won two and the third was a draw Wink

Unfortunately not all complaints procedures work in that way. I once went to a conference where a new Housing Ombudsman was introducing himself. There were a number of presentations, one of which was from a Complaints Officer from a Housing Association in the north west who, to me, appeared to have lost sight of what a complaints procedure was supposed to be for, and was treating the whole thing as a "production line" to get complaints to the Ombudsman as quickly as possible. This sort of thing may well happen with the railway industry as some TOCs may have better complaints procedures (and officers dealing with complaints) than others. As I understand the situation, as passengers only have a contract with the TOC (and not Network Rail or the ROSCOs» (Rolling Stock Owning Company - about)) then it could only be the TOCs that can be complained about, or at least complained to.

It is also pertinent to bear in mind that an Ombudsman will generally refer a complaint back to the organisation that is being complained about if the complaint has not completed their internal complaints procedure. This being the case, it will be seen that it is the Ombudsman that decides whether to take a case on, not the complainant, so a complaint to the Ombudsman in itself will not guarantee an Ombudsman investigation.

Finally, it is not an Ombudsman's job to produce detailed annual reports on matters outside of their remit, as 81D hopes - there will probably be no annual reports on individual TOC performances. Annual reports (in my day anyway) simply summarised the work of the Ombudsman, identifying trends in complaints and, if individual examples are provided, they will be anonymised.

« Last Edit: November 30, 2018, 07:27:14 pm by Robin Summerhill » Logged
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« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2018, 08:55:51 am »

From Mark Hopwood in a staff briefing.  Not sure if it’s straight to the 15 minute version though.

Mark Hopwood and communication in the same sentence? I feel sick.

I expect it was a virtual Mark Hopwood, or a hologram.......or maybe via a note shoved out from under the Boardroom door?

GWR (Great Western Railway) Connect issue w/c 25 November:

Quote
[...]
Early next year we’ll go live with Delay Repay, the national scheme that train companies use to compensate customers for unexpected delays or cancellations. It’s all part of an industry-wide plan to improve customer experience on the railway – and will make the often-complex process for making a claim clearer, helping us find quicker resolutions for customers. This is something that we know from our GEMs training is key to customer excellence, and more information about the scheme will follow.

 

This week a new ombudsman launched, which will give rail passengers a fast track for complaints. It’s good news for customers, who will now have an official body to escalate complaints on their behalf.
[..]
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grahame
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« Reply #14 on: December 01, 2018, 11:53:47 am »

After reading some of the (other) posts on this thread it appears that many folk may not fully understand the role of an Ombudsman. ...

[snip]

It is also pertinent to bear in mind that an Ombudsman will generally refer a complaint back to the organisation that is being complained about if the complaint has not completed their internal complaints procedure. This being the case, it will be seen that it is the Ombudsman that decides whether to take a case on, not the complainant, so a complaint to the Ombudsman in itself will not guarantee an Ombudsman investigation.

The Ombudsman really should be the point of call of last resort - the final safety net.  I think you agree that, Robin Summerhill, as someone with considerable experience in the area.  There is one specific issue I would bring to the attention of the Ombudsman if it lies within his/their juristiction.  If the Ombudsman chooses to ask GWR (Great Western Railway) before taking it up in detail, and they fix it, so much the better

Melksham to London return fares are (2018 prices) £171.60 (any time), £72.30 (off peak) and £54.30 (super off peak).

The Super Off Peak ticket is valid on any train on a Saturday or Sunday, so why does the ticket machone offer the Off Peak ticket on its front screen, at an £18 higher price than the ticket most people want at the weekend?   The next return train from London that is valid off peak but not super off peak isn't until Monday afternoon!

The issues has been raised multiple times with GWR, but the answer has been "too difficult with the technology we have".  It's also to their £18 advantage each time someone buys a more expensive ticket than they need.

I grant you that you can find the Super Off Peak ticket on other menus if you ask for "other ticket types", but even then the machine does not make the difference clean, in both cases telling to that the tickets are not valid on some peak trains Monday to Friday, and suggesting you enquire at a ticket office for further details.

I understand that this issue also applies at some other stations ... a sensible fix at Melksham would be for the machine to offer super off peak on weekends and public holidays; Monday to Friday after 09:30 you could argue.
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