The rail industry is to receive its first ever ombudsman which will be given power to resolve customer complaints.
The organisation that will be picking up the pieces is the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman, which has experience in handling complaints in the retail industry but is now set to start dealing with rail issues in November.
The Ombudsman essentially acts as an intermediary between rail companies and passengers. If a passenger makes a complaint and does not feel that it is being handled sufficiently by the rail operator, they can submit it to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman will then assess the case and if it is deemed that it has not been handled appropriately, they will take the case and fight it on behalf of the passenger. The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman is expected to handle around 6000 cases per year.
Jo Johnson, the rail minister, said: “This is an important step by the industry. An independent and effective ombudsman, working closely with consumer groups, will ensure passengers get a fair deal and give them a stronger voice. And it will also help the rail companies to improve their service to passengers.”
This news will without a doubt come as a great relief to many commuters and passengers who have been facing increasingly disrupted services. Most recently a series of timetable changes by Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) led to wide spread delays and cancellations and the volume of complaints made it difficult for train operators to effectively resolve individual problems. GTR also recently announced a compensation scheme for passengers who were adversely affected by the disruption so one could be forgiven for thinking that things might actually be starting to get better for an industry that has long been plagued with accusations of inadequacy and negligence.
The news has been warmly welcomed by many consumer groups, with talk of an official complaints body for the rail network being spoke about for quite some time
“For the many passengers who are tired of being badly let down by train services and having their complaints ignored, the introduction of a rail ombudsman can’t come soon enough,” said Alex Hayman, managing director of public markets, at Which?
“While the introduction of an ombudsman service is welcome it’s vital that it is introduced without further delay and that it provides real redress for passengers, so the rail system can start working for passengers, not just train companies.”
Although the introduction of the Ombudsman is no doubt a step in the right direction, one could make the argument that the need for such a body is in fact a sign of how badly complaints have been handled so far in this industry. Steve Chambers from the Campaign for Better Transport noted that the Ombudsman was really a last resort and that rail operators needed to “look at how they communicate when things do go wrong and learn from the recent mistakes surrounding the introduction of the timetable”