Appealing against penalty rail fares will become fairer and more open under new proposals unveiled by the Department for Transport today (3 February 2015).
Penalty fares can be charged by train operators if a passenger is found to be travelling without a valid ticket. A process already exists to enable those who think they have been charged incorrectly or unfairly to make appeals through 1 of 2 appeal bodies.
The government is launching a consultation on a number of proposals that will make the system fairer for passengers and more consistent across the industry.
Rail Minister Claire Perry said:
More people are using our railways than ever, and passengers rightly expect that we take strong action against fare dodgers. But passengers penalised through no fault of their own must be treated fairly.
That’s why we have listened to passenger groups and are working with the rail industry to improve the system so it is clearer, fairer and easier to use.
Currently passengers can appeal either through the Independent Revenue Collection and Support (IRCAS) or the Independent Penalty Fares Appeals Service (IPFAS).
Measures for public consultation include:
requiring train operators to remove the reference to criminal sanctions in letters chasing penalty fare payment. Government will provide new guidance to train operators to make clear that the threat of criminal sanctions for non-payment of a penalty fare, which is a civil offence, is not appropriate. Criminal sanctions will still apply in suspected cases of deliberate fare evasion
requiring all appeal bodies to adopt the ‘stop the clock’ measure. This means that those appealing do not have to pay the penalty fare until a final ruling has been reached. The 21-day deadline for payment will be suspended when an appeal is received by the appeals body, and will only resume once a letter notifying the outcome has been issued. Only 1 of the 2 existing appeals bodies already uses ‘stop the clock’
requiring all appeals bodies to be independent of transport operators and owning groups. Currently, the IPFAS is owned by the Go-Ahead group, which runs Southeastern. IPFAS will need to be separated from its current owner to continue to consider appeals
creating an independent appeals process to make final decisions. This will look at cases which have been considered twice by the appeals bodies and remain unresolved. This would give passengers further assurance their case has been fully and independently reviewed
regular ‘health checks’ of the system by government. We will ask train operators and appeals bodies to supply penalty fare and appeals information regularly to ensure that they are complying with the code of practice.
The public consultation will run from 3 February to 27 April 2015.