Coronavirus: Government to refund train tickets to encourage people to work from home

23 March 2020, 13:28

Passengers are being offered free train ticket refunds
Passengers are being offered free train ticket refunds. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The government has announced it will offer free train ticket refunds to encourage people to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Passengers with unwanted tickets will be able to get their money back at no extra cost, the Department for Transport announced.

Getting a refund previously cost customers £10, but that fee has temporarily been waived.

The measure will help people with either season tickets or Advance tickets who have decided not to or been forced not to travel due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the announcement will help to ensure that "no-one is unfairly out of pocket for doing the right thing."

Many commuters with weekly, monthly or annual passes have stopped using the UK's rail network in the last couple of weeks.

Grant Shapps said it would be "unfair" to leave people out of pocket
Grant Shapps said it would be "unfair" to leave people out of pocket. Picture: PA

However, not all season ticket holders will be able to obtain a refund. The minimum amount of time left on a ticket for it to be eligible is around three days for a weekly ticket, seven days for a monthly ticket and three months for an annual ticket.

But anyone with an Advance ticket, which is usually non-refundable, will be able to get their money back.

Passengers are being advised to contact whoever they purchased the ticket from for their refund, whether it is a train company or an independent ticket retailer.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of passenger watchdog Transport Focus, said: "It is right that government and train companies have recognised the exceptional circumstances posed by the coronavirus and allowed refunds on Advance tickets and unused time on season tickets.

"This victory for common sense will be a welcome relief for passengers who feared that they had lost their money."

There has been a 70 per cent drop in passenger numbers during the Covid-19 outbreak
There has been a 70 per cent drop in passenger numbers during the Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: PA

Also on Monday, UK rail services were slashed and franchise agreements were suspended to stop train companies collapsing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure effectively sees rail networks being temporarily taken into national ownership for half a year, a move unprecedented under a Conservative government.

The Department for Transport said in a statement: "The government is taking emergency measures to support and sustain necessary rail services as operators face significant drops in their income.

"The Department for Transport will temporarily suspend normal franchise agreements and transfer all revenue and cost risk to the government for a limited period, initially six months.

"Operators will continue to run services day-to-day for a small predetermined management fee."

Allowing operators to enter insolvency would cause "significantly more disruption to passengers and higher costs to the taxpayer," the department added.

Passenger numbers have fallen by up to 70 per cent, ticket sales are down by two-thirds and rail timetables have been slashed since the Covid-19 outbreak.

Elsewhere, some London Underground platforms were extremely busy on Monday morning with heavy loading seen on multiple Tube lines.

Some social media users claimed there was little other option for those who needed to travel in for work since several services had been reduced by Transport for London.

Nurse Julia Harris tweeted pictures of queues and a packed carriage at North Greenwich tube station, where trains were running every seven minutes.

She urged Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to address the situation, adding: "This is becoming dangerous for critical workers."