Regulator issues new industry guidance on handling passenger complaints

26 October 2015

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has issued new guidance on complaints handling procedures (CHPs) for the rail industry.

The guidance is aimed at ensuring that train and station operators use the insight from passenger complaints to tackle root causes of dissatisfaction and continuously improve the passenger experience.

The new CHP guidance updates previous guidance from 2005, and focuses on the way the industry manages staff and culture in responding effectively to complaints.

ORR has developed the new complaints handling guidance after close consultation with the rail industry, incorporating views from across the sector.  The main updates to the guidance include:

  • Having a clear process in place to distinguish between complaints and feedback, particularly in use of social media platforms such as Twitter.
  • A requirement for train or station operators to coordinate responses to complaints about third parties (such as car park providers or catering staff) – this will ensure that the passenger is not disadvantaged by, for example, having to address a complaint to several different bodies.
  • A new obligation to establish an appeals handling process with the passenger bodies (Transport Focus and London Travel Watch), where the passenger bodies think this would be appropriate.
  • How ORR is also working with the industry on monitoring compliance with the guidance, including publication of key performance data demonstrating how train operating companies are complying with their obligations to disabled passengers and managing passenger dissatisfaction.

Stephanie Tobyn, Deputy director – consumers, said:

We want to see the industry use complaints information, as well as general passenger feedback, to identify the root causes of dissatisfaction and take targeted action to improve the overall customer experience.
The new guidance is aimed at making sure that the industry focuses on putting the right training, staff and organisational structures in place to deliver a continuously improving railway for passengers. We have updated the guidance to reflect technological developments such as use of social media to ensure that the industry is keeping pace with the changing needs and expectations of passengers.

Rail Minister Claire Perry said:

Our plan for passengers is to build a world-class rail network, backed by record levels of investment that provides the highest standards of customer service and makes journeys better for everyone. This new guidance will make it easier for customers to raise a complaint when they don't receive the quality service that they deserve, and will help to ensure that passengers are at the heart of everything the rail industry does.

In recent years, the regulator has worked closely with governments and the rail industry to improve overall standards of service for rail passengers. This includes overseeing the development of an industry 'code of practice' on providing accessible and accurate ticket information to passengers when they buy rail tickets; ensuring timely and reliable passenger information during disruptions, through an industry action plan; and driving industry transparency through publication of vital data on complaints, passenger journeys and train punctuality.

Additionally, ORR is also reviewing the rail ticket market to determine whether the industry arrangements as well as rules and regulations on ticket selling – which are over 20 years old – are still relevant and providing the best outcome for passengers.

The regulator will publish a new report from April 2016 showing industry performance against key obligations it has towards the consumers. This will cover assistance to disabled passengers, management of complaints handling processes, provision of information to passengers particularly during travel disruption and better information to help passengers choose the best ticket for their needs.

Notes to editors:

  1. To read the guidance in full, see:
  2. Watch our video to see how the new CHPs will help passengers and industry: 
  3. ORR along with Transport Focus is hosting a Twitter Q&A on Wednesday, 28 October between 3 and 4pm. To join the conversation and ask questions about complaints procedures use #railcomplaints and follow @railregulation or @transportfocus.
  4. In evaluating compliance with the guidance, ORR will use evidence such as:
    1. the ease with which passengers can make complaints, for example the accessibility of website information, passenger information leaflets provided at stations and information made available through social media.
    2. other relevant information published by licence holders such as the level of proactivity around communicating entitlements to compensation.
    3. feedback from Transport Focus (TF) and London Travel Watch (LTW) and other third parties including, for example, the results of mystery shopping exercises.
    4. bespoke research conducted by ORR or in conjunction with TF and LTW.
    5. consumer insight gained by way of individual consumer complaints made to ORR, TF and LTW.
  5. ORR's reporting on industry key performance measures via a 'core data' set is an important way in which train companies and Network Rail can demonstrate that they are complying with their obligations to disabled passengers and managing their complaints handling processes in accordance with published policies and procedures. It will also add further value by providing a robust, ongoing means of identifying best practice with a view to raising service standards for rail passengers and embedding continuous improvement in complaint handling and assistance provision.
  6. If there are concerns arising from ORR monitoring activity, ORR may request further information from the licence holders and/or undertake an audit. Under the licence condition, the regulator may also formally request that an operator reviews its CHP, submits a report to ORR, and where necessary makes changes.