Southern Rail’s Equality of Access Crisis – Ann Bates OBE speaks out (Part Two)

After campaigning for months on the crisis of Equality of Access on Southern Rail, ABC believes that this issue can be ignored no longer. Extensive work is underway with witnesses who have experienced the failings of Southern Rail’s system, and we are soon to take the government to court in a precedent-setting case for disability access. Today, in Part Two of our blog series, we bring you the expert analysis of former DfT and Govia advisor Ann Bates, who was granted an OBE for her contributions to the field.

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Statement from Ann Bates, OBE:

“I was Chair of the Rail Group at the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (at the Department for Transport) for nine years and have worked with government, train companies, statutory agencies and other parties to ensure the full accessibility of the rail network for all passengers with the whole range of disabilities – not just wheelchair users, most of whom rely on staffing either on the train or the station for assistance.

The parties involved in the present dispute have not provided any robust solution to the ‘unstaffed train calling at an unstaffed station’ problem.  Various solutions have been proposed, all of which depend on a slick communication level that has been proven absent throughout the dispute, or negative experiences offered such as long distance taxi rides (mostly not available on the coast and many unable to fit a larger wheelchair inside), waiting on an unstaffed platform in all weathers trying to use an information point (impossible with a hearing loss), or being forced to change at another station to ‘await a staffed service’.

None of these options meet the test of ‘reasonableness’ required by the law as we will be delayed (sometimes by hours) and treated far worse than other passengers who can take trains straight through to their destination.

I have campaigned for the ‘level playing field’ concept where we get no positive discrimination, but the current plans will leave me in a more uncomfortable, more uncertain and more delayed situation than I was in travelling in the guards van all those years ago. Twenty years ago I was in the guards van, now I’m not even on the train!”

 

For Part One of our series on Equality of Access, click here.

If you have been affected by access failures on Southern Rail, please write to us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com

Equality of Access Crisis on Southern Rail – Rail Industry take heed! (Part One)

The news of a potential resolution to the Aslef dispute has created a new level of stress and worry for disabled passengers. Documents leaked yesterday show that the list of agreed ‘exceptional circumstances’, where a train will run in driver-only mode, have actually increased since earlier discussions. To this day, there has been no meaningful effort by Southern Rail to address the concerns of disabled passengers, and we simply cannot allow this to continue.

ABC has received an abundance of witness reports of the failings of Southern Rail’s system for access – far too many to fit into one blog. Thus, we now commence a series – bringing you in-depth comments from some of the sharpest minds on this issue; many of whom have also suffered at the hands of Southern Rail. Today’s Part One presents a background to the problem and the investigations we have conducted so far.

Part One: a background to the problem

ABC’s application for a judicial review of the Department for Transport was annouced last week, which aims to set a legal precedent for Equality of Access on public transport, as well as questioning the lawfulness of the DfT’s overall handling of the Southern Rail management contract.

The precedent we are concerned with is simple – just who is responsible for enforcing the Equality Act 2010 regarding the right to access public transport? The Secretary of State for Transport has denied to our lawyers that this is his department’s duty, and a train operating company is on record as saying “ultimately, we’ll be tested in the courts won’t we?”

This controversial issue was the subject of a recent conference on rail hosted by Transport for All, where ABC and others went head to head with the Rail Delivery Group – attempting to seek a clear answer on a very simple question: “just who is responsible for ensuring the right to equality of access on transport?” Fuller coverage of the issue, and what happened at the conference, can be found in an excellent report by John Pring of the Disability News Service.

We believe that this problem is well-acknowledged by the rail industry as a whole and suspect they must be very embarrassed by Southern Rail’s conduct, which is a further source of shame for UK rail. We would venture to suggest, however, that it is the situation with Southern Rail specifically that is the source of this shame. Elsewhere in rail, steady progress is being made through efforts such as the Department for Transport’s Access for All program, and the Persons with Reduced Mobility regulations, which require all vehicles to be fully accessible by January 2020. In other words, the renegade Southern Rail seems to be going against the grain of the rail industry itself (the target of fully accessible vehicles means very little when there is no assurance of adequate staffing or communications).

The changes made by Southern Rail have been quietly revealed through new maps requiring advance booking at every station on the network. ‘Turn up and go’ travel was previously guaranteed at 33 stations on Southern Rail, and there is no way of defending this move as anything but a step back for accessibility. Charles Horton, CEO of Southern Rail, has defended it nonetheless and has simply written off the news of this very troubling revelation as: ‘profoundly misleading’. His letter in the Guardian last month received several shocked responses from members of our campaign, and he has yet to engage with our concerns in any meaningful way whatsoever.

Equality of Access: voices from the industry

The issue of the industry’s confusion on equality of access gained landmark coverage in November’s Modern Railways magazine, which included a number of contradictory statements from TOC managers. An unnamed company, when asked how it would provide assistance in the case of trains being run in driver-only mode, said:

‘The good thing would be that all of the regular passengers would still be carried, it would only be the wheelchair users who wouldn’t be able to travel’.

The article continues:

But what if that wheelchair user had booked ahead for an important event? And it’s not just wheelchairs that need the ramp down. What about those who can walk, but only with support such as a stick or frame? And so on. The grey area demands more rigorous thinking on the part of the industry. One train operating company (TOC) Managing Director told us: ‘Societal expectations are rising all the time; ultimately we’ll be tested in the courts won’t we?’

There are echoes of the same sentiment in an article from this month’s Rail Magazine, where we see Southern Rail’s head of customer experience, Kerri Ricketts, making a highly controversial division between people with different ‘types’ of disabilities, again calling on the sentiment that it will ‘only’ be wheelchair users who are disadvantaged by the absence of onboard staff:

“…when an OBS is not available most disabled users benefit from the train continuing to run with just the driver, rather than cancelling the service and forcing all passengers to cram onto a following train. [Ricketts] said that only wheelchair users would gain from transferring onto the next service. Passengers with other disabilities – for example, those less physically impaired, blind, deaf, or mentally imparied – would be best served by continuing to travel.”

Ricketts also said that on average 1 in 1,750 trains would operate under these circumstances – fewer than one train per day. We at ABC feel that this statistic is to be taken with more than a grain of salt – if these are really the odds we are looking at, why has one local wheelchair user been left behind (and abandoned for up to two hours) on platforms three times in January alone?

It is vital that we raise this issue now and compel Southern Rail, the Department for Transport, the Rail Delivery Group and others to start playing a meaningful part in this discussion. They cannot continue to deny the reality of a problem that is so very clear and urgent to lawyers, access experts and disabled users.

We feel that the needs of the less mobile must be conceived of much more widely, and take into account the intersection of disabilities that is, most controversially, ignored by the comments quoted above. The European model uses a concept of PRM (Persons with Reduced Mobility) and includes mothers with children, pregant women and all disabilities in its scope. This is surely a much more progressive way to address this issue, than the callous division of disabilities into categories whereby, it is ‘only wheelchair users’ who will suffer. If the rail industry is truly seeking to modernise, it needs to urgently get with the times – the comments above make abundantly clear that Southern Rail has no concern for the realities of discrimination law.

Parts Two and Three of our series brings together contributions from experts, including members of the ABCD (Association of British Commuters Disabled Passengers), and we will be publishing these throughout the week. In every case, we will forward our publications to Southern Rail, the Rail Delivery Group and others, and ask them for an urgent and transparent response to our concerns.

If you have been personally affected by the problem of access on Southern Rail, please write to us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com

 

 

BREAKING NEWS: ABC applies to Court for judicial review of the Department for Transport over Southern Rail

We are delighted to announce that we have applied to Court this morning for a judicial review of the Department for Transport’s handling of the Southern Rail management contract. The application to Court is the outcome of our Crowd Justice fundraiser, which raised over £26,000 in September 2016. We have been working intensively on the case for five months already; a process slowed considerably by the lack of transparency shown by the Department for Transport in response to our FOI requests.

Today’s news will be extremely welcome to all our donors, supporters and volunteers; without whose support none of this would have been possible. It is right that our fellow passengers will now play a part in bringing the government to account for the damage Southern Rail has caused to so many thousands of lives.

Legal update

Detailed Grounds have been lodged at Court this morning that address the Department for Transport’s ongoing failure to hold Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to account for the long-term breakdown of service on Southern Rail, in regard to two distinct areas:

(1) Delay – we believe the Secretary of State has acted unlawfully by failing to determine and announce within a reasonable time whether GTR is in breach of its franchise obligations; and

(2) Discrimination – we believe that the Secretary of State has failed to comply with his duties under the Equality Act 2010 and has as a result caused indirect discrimination to passengers with disabilities.

These unlawful acts are ongoing. ABC is seeking declaratory relief – i.e. a Court finding that the Secretary of State has acted or is acting unlawfully.

Today’s application to Court is the outcome of five months of hard work; a process slowed considerably by the DfT’s resistance to providing transparency on its contractual relationship with GTR; repeatedly delaying FOI requests, which have only just been completed. Both the Southern Rail management contract and remedial plan remain publicly available only in redacted form and, without transparency, there is no way to clarify the true causes of this unprecedented rail crisis. There has long ceased to be any justification for the Secretary of State’s ‘hands off’ approach to a company that is his Department’s direct contractor.

The application has been lodged and is due to be issued imminently. It will then be served on the Secretary of State who will have the opportunity to respond by filing Summary Grounds of Resistance within a further 21 days. The Court will then consider, usually without a hearing in the first instance, whether to grant leave (permission to proceed to court). If leave is granted, ABC will launch a second crowdfunding campaign to raise sufficient funds to take the case through to its conclusion.

Comment from the Association of British Commuters:

“We are delighted to announce that we have now applied to Court for a judicial review of the Department for Transport’s handling of the Southern Rail management contract.

We are extremely grateful for the work undertaken by our legal team; namely barrister Jamas Hodivala of 2 Bedford Row and solicitor Matthew Garbutt and his team at Devonshires Solicitors LLP. All involved have gone above and beyond the call of duty in helping us seek justice on the Southern Rail crisis.

Our Detailed Grounds, lodged at Court today, are the result of five months’ hard work and the extensive research of dozens of volunteers who have supported the campaign by contributing their time and professional skills. Our donors, supporters and volunteers are the people who have been hit the hardest by the Southern Rail crisis, and they deserve to play a part in finally bringing the government to account.

We began this process back in September, at a time when we felt we’d already reached our last resort. That it has got so much worse, and the DfT have still not acted, now beggars belief. Commuters have long since passed the point of exhaustion, and it is a matter of shame for the DfT that we have had to go to such great lengths to demand action be taken.

We continue to urge the DfT to act decisively and transparently on the future of Southern Rail. The longer they stand back from this unprecedented rail crisis, the harder it will be to put the pieces back together again.”

Lianna Etkind, Public Transport Campaigner at Campaign for Better Transport:

“Today is a step forward for passenger power. It is absolutely right that the Government is held to account for the failings of the Southern franchise, which has made peoples’ lives a misery. Long before any industrial dispute, Southern passengers had to rely on a train service plagued by delays and disruptions, under a management contract with no financial penalties for poor performance.

Fundamentally, the running of a train service is down to the contract between Government and train operator, so the Government’s role in setting and enforcing the standards in the contract with Govia must be properly scrutinised. For far too long, passengers’ voices have been ignored in the tussle between Southern Rail and the unions. We need to ensure that in the future, passenger representation is written into this franchise, and indeed into all rail franchises, so that those who have to use the trains day in, day out, have their voices heard.”

Faryal Velmi – Director, Transport for All:  

“It is totally unacceptable that Southern Rail have been allowed to treat disabled passengers as second class citizens. Transport for All has heard time and again from disabled transport users who feel Southern Rail’s network is now a no-go zone; impacting on people’s ability to work and often leaving them increasingly isolated. The Department for Transport and rail industry must act urgently to prevent the basic rights of disabled passengers being flouted in this way.”

For a detailed explanation of our grounds, please view this document:

abc-grounds-for-judicial-review-explained

ABC continues to work intensively on the JR case, and several other campaigns for proper compensation and consumer justice. To donate to our campaign, click here.

The Credit Card Challenge continues: claiming under chargeback against Southern Rail…

Since breaking the news of Sean’s successful credit card claim two weeks ago, we’ve been looking at every possible avenue to help passengers with their own claim. For those who have been unsuccessful with a section 75 claim, or who purchased their ticket on a debit card or credit card where section 75 does not apply (such as pre-paid cards) – we now present a whole new approach to claiming back.

Neither ABC nor the national press have been able to determine whether Sean’s refund went through under section 75 or a similar process called ‘chargeback’. Both American Express and Southern Rail have been (unsurprisingly) tight-lipped about the basis on which Sean’s claim was awarded. In order to cover all bases in helping passengers make a similar claim, we now launch a second guide to the ‘Credit Card Challenge’. The best news of all is that ‘chargeback’ claims can cover purchases made on a debit card too.

It is impossible to guarantee success through either of these methods, but the fact that Sean’s claim was successful may mean that there is still a chance to set a important precedent. Such a precedent would not only be game-changing for consumer rights over rail, but could also leave you thousands of pounds richer after a whole year of suffering Southern Rail’s service.

Step One: read our guide to using chargeback:

chargeback-read-me-first

Step Two: use our template letter to start our own claim:

chargeback-letter

Step Three: attach evidence to support your claim (example here):

southern-rail-performance-dec-jan-2017

Please write to us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com to let us know if your claim was successful. Please note that we are a volunteer-run campaign and do not have the resources to advise individuals on the specifics of their claim.

DISCLAIMER:

ABC is providing this information to assist a person in making a claim under their bank or credit card company’s chargeback scheme, in connection with services provided by Southern Rail.

The sample letter provided is a template only. Any person using it does so at their own risk and accepts full responsibility for the content and accuracy of his or her claim.  ABC is not a party to any such claim and accepts no responsibility or liability for the accuracy of any information provided.

ABC does not guarantee the outcome of any claim and accepts no liability whatsoever in the event of any claim being unsuccessful.

 

Commuters, join the Credit Card Challenge! How to claim under section 75 against Southern Rail…

Since ABC broke Sean’s story on Sunday, his successful £2,400 claim to Amex has been headline news. If further claims are successful, a clear precedent will be set and we’ll be looking at no less than a revolution in consumer rights for passengers!

Our busy team of commuter campaigners has been on the case and we have now produced a complete guide to claiming back from your credit card provider. We encourage all credit card users for any amount over £100 to take this forward – help us create a whole new era of passenger rights after our year of suffering on Southern Rail!

Each of the following documents has been prepared under the guidance of a qualified solicitor, and should provide all you need to make your own claim. Remember, if your claim is rejected you will have the right of appeal to the financial ombudsman – we will also be preparing model letters for anyone who needs to appeal.

Read our guide to claiming under section 75:

the-abc-guide-to-claiming-under-section-75

Download our template letter to make it easy for you to initiate your own claim:

abc-template-letter-for-section-75-claims

View a sample of supporting evidence here:

southern-rail-performance-figures-example-evidence

To refresh your memory of Sean’s story and the letter he sent, click here.

Please write to us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com to let us know if you have been successful. Good luck, and we hope to hear your success stories soon!

Disclaimer:

  1. ABC is providing this information to assist you in making a claim under s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 against your credit card company in connection with services provided by Southern Rail.
  1. In relation to goods or services paid for by credit card, s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 allows you to claim for breach of contract or misrepresentation against one or both of the retailer (in this case, the train operating company which sold you the ticket) and the credit card company, either simultaneously or separately.
  1. Please note that you cannot recover the same loss from both parties.
  1. The sample letter provided by ABC is a template only. Any person using it does so at their own risk and is responsible for the content and the accuracy of the claim.
  1. ABC is not a party to any claim made in accordance with this guide or otherwise, and accepts no responsibility or liability for the content and/or the accuracy of any information included in any such claim.
  1. ABC does not guarantee the outcome of any claim and accepts no liability whatsoever in the event of a claim being unsuccessful.

Compensation – looking for more than an ’empty gesture’? If you bought your season ticket on a credit card, you might be quids in!

The problem of compensation for Southern Rail’s failure to provide promised services has been an issue for thousands of commuters throughout 2016. ABC have now set up a whole new team to look at other avenues for compensation, and will be letting you know our recommendations soon. In the meantime, we wanted to share the story of a commuter who got in touch with us to share his compensation triumph.

Sean, a yearly season-ticket holder, told us that he had applied to American Express to dispute the sale, based on the non-delivery of goods and services. He then provided evidence to support his claim, using Southern Rail’s own punctuality statistics,  and the fact that they reduced their timetable by 15% last summer. He estimated that 50% of his journeys were cancelled or disrupted and requested 50% of his money back.

American Express granted his claim and Sean is now £2,400 richer because of it.

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-15-52-47

Credit card companies are bound under the Consumer Credit Act, meaning they are jointly liable for the provision of goods and services until they have been delivered. So, if you have used your credit card to purchase any kind of ticket above £100, you might be able to benefit from this too.

Based on Sean’s advice, start by calling your credit card provider and requesting to initiate a ‘dispute process’, perhaps in the form of a section 75 claim. If your credit card provider allows the claim, it’s then a matter of providing the relevant evidence/performance statistics and a letter including an estimate of the percentage you feel you are owed back. Sean’s quite reasonable estimate in his own case was 50%, but there is no reason why this shouldn’t be more (or less) depending on the extent to which you have been affected.

*Since the time of publishing, Amex will not confirm whether Sean’s successful claim was the outcome of a section 75 claim, chargeback or a ‘dispute process’. We encourage commuters to put their application in the form of a section 75 claim as a first step and provide a model letter here. Please be aware that you will have recourse to the financial ombudsman if rejected, and we will soon provide a model letter for this too.

Sean used the following performance statistics, from the period 29th May – 25th June 2016, to support his letter (featured below):

southern-rail-performance-may-jun-2016

 

screen-shot-2017-01-16-at-15-53-40

“Sean” was happy to share his story on the condition of anonymity. Please address press inquiries to: contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com

For further details on section 75 protections for credit card holders, click here.

Please write to us at contact@associationofbritishcommuters.com to let us know if you are successful with a credit card claim.

ABC legal campaign – final preparations now being made for application to Court

ABC is a transport pressure group founded in Brighton in May 2016, in response to intolerably poor service from Southern Rail. We thought we had reached our last resort in September and launched a legal crowdfunder for a judicial review of the DfT’s handling of Southern Rail, its close subcontractor.

Little did we know then how much worse things would get.

Our lawyers spent months in correspondence with the DfT; receiving highly unsatisfactory responses and repeated, time-wasting extensions to our FOI requests. To this day, the details of the government’s contract with Southern Rail remain under lock and key; and there has never been a stronger or more urgent case for transparency than now.

With vast amounts of material to prepare, our lawyers continued to work intensively on the case and we are now on the brink of applying to Court to take the judicial review forward. The details of our final grounds will hit the press by mid-January.

Though we cannot yet share details of our final grounds, the case is sure to take on Chris Grayling’s refusal to act in the public interest, and the details of the unprecedented failure of public policy behind Southern Rail’s ‘management contract’. We are also extremely concerned about the lack of disabled access on Southern Rail, a problem that has run throughout this year of service breakdown and is set to become a lot worse with the chaotic changes to staffing now taking place.

Our campaign took on the failure and mismanagement of Southern Rail before the industrial action even became an issue. With the industrial action on top of the collapsed service we have lived through all year, one marvels at the extent of Chris Grayling’s dereliction of duty as hundreds of thousands of people suffer and the entire economy of the South has been brought to a standstill.

For more information on ABC and our #SouthernFail campaign, click here.

To donate to the campaign or purchase ABC badges, click here.