New Rail Ombudsman – Your views sought

26 September 2017

By Marcus Clements, Head of Consumer Policy.

Marcus ClementsA strategic objective of ORR is to hold train companies to account for delivering better customer service, and the way train companies handle passenger complaints is one of our key areas of focus. And when problems arise, it is important that passengers have their complaints dealt with in a fair, effective and timely manner.

Improving complaints handling

Where companies don’t meet the standards we have agreed with them, we investigate and take appropriate action to address their performance.

Nevertheless, there will be times when passengers won’t be satisfied with the outcome of their complaint, even when a train company follows their own, agreed, guidelines. In these circumstances it’s important to be able to take the complaint to someone who is independent of the train company.

ORR has worked with train companies so that they now clearly tell customers about the organisations they can appeal to, being Transport Focus and London TravelWatch. But even these bodies don’t have the power to force companies to act.

Paving the way to a Rail Ombudsman

The way a train company handles complaints affects how a passenger feels about them, and we know from our complaints satisfaction survey that there is general dissatisfaction among many passengers with how complaints are handled. Research has also highlighted that consumers would have more confidence in companies that give access to a dispute resolution service.

So ORR was pleased to be asked to shape how such an Ombudsman would be, by being invited to join the task force that the Rail Minister set up to develop it.

We have used this opportunity to share our vision, of an Ombudsman free and independent, able to make binding decisions, and that encourages the industry to improve.

As a member of the task force, we are currently looking at what changes are required for train companies’ complaints procedures, paving the way for a smooth introduction of the Ombudsman. This includes consulting on changes such as whether complainants should be directed to the Ombudsman directly or to the appeal bodies first, and what the timescale should be for giving them this information.

You can read more and share your views in our consultation, which opened today.