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Railways: Ticket Refunds

Volume 693: debated on Monday 18 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Why there is a £10 charge for refunding rail tickets purchased online, but not for refunding tickets purchased at stations.

My Lords, the National Rail Conditions of Carriage allow an administrative fee to be charged when a ticket is refunded. The cost is normally £10. It makes no difference whether the ticket was bought at a booking office, by phone or on the internet. No administrative fee is charged when trains are delayed or cancelled and the passenger decides not to travel on their outward journey as a consequence.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. I am sure he is aware that most booking offices will refund tickets if they are returned pretty quickly and were bought at the same station. Is it not a bit odd that you do not have to pay a fee for a refund at a booking office, but you do on the web when the cost of transaction on the web must be very small compared with the cost of running a booking office?

My Lords, my understanding is that it is a discretionary charge, but that a charge is made and it makes little difference whether you bought a ticket at a booking office, by phone or over the internet. I also understand that the charge has remained £10 for at least the past decade, if not longer, so it is a very small administrative fee. However, it is down to the train operator.

My Lords, will the Minister reflect on the fact that although some train operators are paying the Government a premium, they are all heavily subsidised through the money the Government give Network Rail? Is it not about time that some of these train companies took account of the views of the public instead of hiding behind regulations of that sort?

My Lords, that is a matter for the train companies, not for the Government. During the time in which we have been in government, increases in regulated fares have been limited and in real terms they are lower than they used to be. The fares system is very varied, as we well understand, but there are plans to simplify it in response to public opinion.

My Lords, in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, the Minister said that the charge was “discretionary”. Will he explain exactly what that means? Do I have the discretion of not paying it if I am in that position?

My Lords, it would be quite nice, would it not, if we could all not pay discretionary charges? It is very much down to how the train operating companies operate the scheme. It is called a discretionary charge. My understanding is that it is an administrative fee.

My Lords, is it not the case that 11 train operating companies do not charge £10, but £5 for a refund? Is that not in marked contrast with the practice exercised by airlines—for example, British Airways charges £30 to refund a non-flexible ticket which is cancelled, and airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair have no refund arrangement?