How do refunds work?
As many of you know, I was in hospital for unexpected emergency surgery at the end of January.
I had a season ticket bought until early March when I was expecting to go away - there’s no point buying an annual ticket.
So…whilst stuck in hospital, and enjoying the fact I wouldn’t have to take a Southeastern service, I was thinking…surely I can get a refund?
And that’s when I realised that what Southeastern have on their website is lacking the information needed to get a proper refund…
(Latest update: Monday 21st March)
What Southeastern say
Here’s the screen capture from their website as of Saturday 5th March 2016 (edit: I updated the original one with a better quality one on Sunday, nothing had changed):
“calculated from the date you hand the ticket in”
“unable to travel through illness for a minimum of four continuous unbroken weeks.” - and a refund of half the weekly cost during that time
So I was resigned to getting around £100 back - I didn’t need the ticket to run until March 11th as I was told to work from home, and if I went to the office only for a few days a week - so a season ticket was useless to me.
The day before visiting the ticket office
I thought I’ll check the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, cos surely what Southeastern were offering was unfair for those who had unplanned illness.
It was not only unfair. But wrong.
Here’s the NR site:
So as long as I had proof that I was in hospital, it would be backdated to that date, and the rest of the ticket refunded.
Especially as the NR Conditions of Carriage form part of my ticket contract
Getting the refund
I went along to Dartford station and was told refunds could only be done by letter.
I pointed out their own website, and said that it said I can go to a station.
I also brought with me copies of my medical paperwork, and a printout of that page from the NR CoC.
One phone call later, and a queue forming behind me, it was resolved and I received my refund of £288 today
Can Southeastern do better?
Of course they could.
They could be clearer about the rights of passengers that have bought season tickets who have got ill.
The last thing someone wants is to have to battle for a service that they weren’t using, on top of the ‘service’ that they’d get when they do travel.
And Southeastern should tell the truth on their Ticket FAQs or passsengers may think they weren’t entitled to a refund, as many of us wouldn’t think of looking on the National Rail site.
Southeastern: do better, and put clear, correct, information on your site. People recovering from illness/surgery don’t need to have to go through hoops to get what they’re entitled to.
Update - Sunday 6th March
Southeastern, via twitter said:
We’ve raised your concerns with the relevant colleagues Phil, for updates on this please liaise direct with ^MG.. ^JT
To which I responded, given my previous contact with ^MG (see my write up here):
thanks - maybe he’ll let me know the outcome himself? ;)
Let’s see what comes of this…
Update - Wednesday 9th March
I received an update via email from Southeastern about this today, the relevant part stating:
We are satisfied that our refund policy is compatible with the National Rail Conditions of Carriage, but accept that that the FAQ section on our website may not reflect that. The team are accordingly drafting text that covers this which should be on the website within the next few days.
Whilst ‘compatible’, i.e. it doesn’t differ from the NR CoC, it’s good that Southeastern will update the FAQs to reflect what customers can actually get in respect to unexpected illness.
I’ve responded to Southeastern to thank them for making the change espsecially as I wasn’t aware of the actual refund rules until I dug a little deeper - so how would a ‘normal’ rail user know?
On the train home, I found this interesting document from the (then-called) Office of Rail Regulation about how passenger compensation and refund rights are communicated across the industry - I’ve pointed this document to Southeastern too, it’s now over 2 years old, and would be good to see some of the thoughts in that document implemented.
I’ve also asked for the Thameslink/Great Northern site to have similar treatment, since it matches their sister site over at Southeastern - I hope this will help our neighbouring rail users.
I’m glad that I can draw a line under this, and will keep an eye out on the changes to ensure that the changes are clear enough for those who need it.
Update - Monday 21st March
Nothing has changed on the Southeastern site.
The content is still the same, despite our contact saying it will be addressed ‘within the next few days’
Will it be? Or is this another attempt at fobbing off and keeping tweets from this group and others silent?
It’s not something difficult to fix, and surely this will help increase trust from customers who are already distrustful of what they are told?
Well, until it is fixed, information about how Southeastern aren’t being totally open and honest about what you’re entitled to should you find yourself ill will keep being broadcast.
And this page will serve as historical record of how not fully detailing refund policy may have mislead customers in the past who could have lost out by not requesting a refund in light of the information provided to them.