Amid the current turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic trains have seen record low passenger levels, with the government stepping in to address the shortfall to the sum of £3.5bn. Train usage is still less than half compared to pre-pandemic levels and is expected to remain subdued for the next 18 months. We look at what this means for train users, what government intervention means and whether refunds for railcards are likely.
On 23 March 2020, the government temporarily took over rail operations in order to provide support and stability during lockdown itself and the economic aftermath produced by it. Part of this takeover included implementing rules to ease the burden on workers who were furloughed or working from home.
The new rules made it far easier (and free) to get a refund for almost all types of rail tickets… but there are a couple of catches. First, the rules only apply to tickets purchased before 7 September 2020. For tickets purchased after that time, some refunds are still available, but at a cost of around £10 per ticket for administration. Second, the rules depend on the kind of ticket you purchased. Season Tickets and railcards, for example, are a bit different.
For a brief time, purchasers of season tickets were allowed to backdate refunds for up to eight weeks, allowing them to recoup funds for unused trips taken before the government stepped in to help. Some, of course, received refunds even if they had been using the tickets during that time period – but this is no longer an option for either case. Any refunds are only calculated from the date the refund is requested, with no backdating allowed. The only exception is for those who are able to prove that they were too sick to travel.
It has been decided that refunds will not be given on railcards – at least not for reasons pertaining to lockdown. Whether the purchaser was ill, on furlough, or locked down is not considered a viable reason to receive a refund.
The rail industry reps (Rail Delivery Group) has stated that, since many people would have travelled enough prior to lockdown to have gained a net benefit from the railcards, or to have broken even, they should not merit a refund. For those who did not travel enough prior to lockdown to make back their initial investment, the industry states that such travellers can do so now that lockdown has been lifted. In effect, the ability to gain a net benefit from the use of railcards has not been removed by lockdown, and so no refunds are to be given based on that restriction.
The government has backed the industry on this position and no change in this policy is expected.