What is the Rail Ombudsman?
The Rail Ombudsman is a free and independent service that investigates complaints about train companies.
All major train operators in the UK that have franchise agreements with the Department for Transport must abide by any ombudsman decision. Transport for London does not fall under the Ombudsman's scope.
The service has the power to make binding decisions, such as making a train company pay you compensation. It will also support the rail sector to improve services and raise standards.
It’s important to remember the Ombudsman doesn’t take sides, but will weigh up the evidence from you and the train company when making a decision.
1 Check your complaint falls within the Rail Ombudsman’s scope
The Rail Ombudsman will investigate complaints about things which happened after the service was established on 26 November 2018.
It will escalate complaints about:
- train delays and cancellations
- customer service
- safety issues, for example, overcrowding
- information given about journeys or engineering works
- availability and access to station facilities including toilets, lifts, escalators, waiting rooms, parking, cycle storage, announcements, ticket sales, and lost property
- the quality of services available on a train including toilets, food and drink, heating, air-conditioning, information, announcements, wi-fi, priority bookings, and reserved seats
- passenger assistance, facilities for customers with disabilities, and discrimination or issues arising under the Equality Act 2010. If you’ve encountered problems using trains as a disabled passenger, you can share your experience with us.
The Rail Ombudsman will not investigate complaints about:
- public policy on transport, privatisation or how the industry is run
- strike action
- how a railway line affects your home
- penalty fares or parking fines
- complaints relating to the outcome of staff disciplinary action
- complaints that have already been dealt with or which are being investigated by another organisation such as the courts
- issues which are outside the control of the train company
- where you have already accepted a decision or offer made by the train company
- claims for business losses
- claims of more than £2500 in compensation
- something that happened before the Rail Ombudsman service was established.
2 Complain to the company
You should first make a formal complaint to the train company, whether it’s for a delayed or cancelled train, poor service or if you’re claiming extra out-of-pocket expenses because your train didn’t run to schedule.
If you want to get compensation for a delayed or cancelled train, we can help you find the quickest way to make a claim.
Train delays & complaints
We’ll just need a few details about your journey and your email address to help you claim compensation.Start your complaint
If you find you don’t qualify for delay repay, auto-compensation or a refund, you might want to make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act (CRA) travel amendments.
You can also make a claim under the CRA if you've suffered a loss because the train company has failed to deliver its service with reasonable care and skill.
3 Get a full response from the train company
After you’ve made a complaint, the train company should come back to you with its decision. This is known as their ‘final response’ or ‘letter of deadlock’.
You can escalate your complaint if:
- The train company doesn’t reply within 40 working days
- You’re not happy with its reply
- You don’t think it handled your complaint fairly.
If the Rail Ombudsman agrees your complaint is something it should look into, it will investigate it.
4 Contact the Rail Ombudsman
If you’ve had a final response that you’re not happy with, or haven’t heard from the train company about your complaint in 40 working days, you can escalate your complaint.
The fastest way to do this is to fill in the online form.
Or you can download a paper form from their website or ask them to post one to you.
Once you’ve filled in the form however you prefer, you can send it back to:
- email@example.com, or
- FREEPOST - RAIL OMBUDSMAN
What you’ll need to provide
The Ombudsman will ask you to explain what happened and what you would like the train company to do about it.
It might also ask you for things such as:
- copies of correspondence (letters, emails, texts) about the complaint (including if you have had a 'deadlock' letter from the Service Provider saying they are not taking it any further)
- proof that you bought a ticket, booked a service in advance, had a seat reservation, needed assistance at a station etc
- any relevant receipts
- dates and times of travel
- offers or replies received from the train company
- alternative routes or actions that you took to avoid extra costs or delays to your journey; photographs; and screenshots.
For more information, about the process you can check the Rail Ombudsman’s website.
If you’d like someone to help you with your complaint, you can arrange for someone to assist you - you’ll just need to get in touch.
How to contact the Rail Ombudsman
Website: (including online chat): www.railombudsman.org
Telephone: 0330 094 0362
Textphone: 0330 094 0363
Post: FREEPOST - RAIL OMBUDSMAN
5 The Rail Ombudsman’s decision
Once the Rail Ombudsman has received and accepted your complaint, it will give you a reference number which will look something like ‘R12345’.
Be sure to keep that number somewhere safe as you’ll need it whenever you contact the service about your complaint.
To track how your decision is processing, you can log onto its site and check how it’s going or you can choose to have automated messages texted or emailed to you.
6 How the Rail Ombudsman will decide your complaint
Step 1: Mediation - the Rail Ombudsman will try encourage you and the train company to settle your complaint by reaching an agreement.
Step 2: Adjudication - If you can’t reach an agreement, it will make an independent decision on your case. This can take up to 40 working days, but most cases shouldn’t take that long.
The service will contact you with their decision and if you accept it, the train company has 20 working days to comply from the date you accepted.
This includes paying you compensation or a refund, if that’s what was decided by the Rail Ombudsman, but this must be done within 10 days of you accepting the decision.
The Rail Ombudsman can also make recommendations for a train company to improve its service and will publish case studies and data to help the train company understand what they could do to raise their service.
7 If you’re unhappy with their decision
Unfortunately, once a decision has been made the case is closed. The Rail Ombudsman won’t be able to help you further, but you might have other options, such as taking legal action through the courts.
If you’d like to know more, we have more information on the Small Claims Court.
You can also contact one of our legal experts about your complaint and what other options you could pursue.