Rail season ticket holders can now apply for coronavirus refund worth thousands

Waterloo Station

Rail commuters who are no longer able to use their season ticket because of coronavirus lockdown measures can now apply for a refund online, which in many cases could be worth thousands of pounds.

In stark contrast to the airlines, the rail industry has is refunding passengers – even those who bought non-refundable single tickets.

Passengers can go online to cash-in season tickets, where previously they had to go to the ticket office. Those applying now can backdate their refund to 17 March, or the last day travelled, if later.

How does it work?

Although the government is managing the operation via the Rail Delivery Group, passengers have to contact the rail company they bought their ticket from to get a refund.

Those with electronic or smartcard tickets can simply log on and apply for the refund.

Passengers with traditional paper annual or monthly season tickets are expected to ask for the refund online. Users must write “Covid-19 refund” on the ticket, cut it in two, and photograph it, and fill in the relevant form.

How much will I get?

It’s complicated. You don’t get the cost of the annual ticket divided by 12, with each unused month returned.

Refunds are calculated as the difference between the season ticket’s cost, and that of the cheapest way to make the same journeys without it, using monthly, weekly or daily tickets.

Towards the expiry date of any season ticket, there comes a point when the separate journeys add up to more than its value, and therefore, no refund is due.

Some operators have refund calculators on their website to allow users to calculate what they will probably receive, for example this one from South Eastern.

Someone who bought an annual season ticket to travel from St Albans to London St Pancras would have paid £3,712 a year on 3 January. If they backdate their claim to 17 March, as allowed, they would receive £2,793 back – minus the £10 administration fee that all refund applicants must pay.

Of course, at some point you may need to buy a new season ticket. But if, for example, your employer has a phased return and you are only needed in the office two days a week at first, this may not be for some time.

Those with tickets bought via a company loan scheme should probably contact their employer before cashing it in.

If you had a monthly ticket you can apply for the unused weeks within 56 days, with the same formula applied.

What about other tickets such singles, returns or carnets?

In the main the rail companies have been refunding all trips bought before the lockdown was declared. Tickets sold before 23 March for travel up until 30 April are being refunded in full, although you need to have applied before the departure date. Tickets bought after 23 March can not be refunded, as by then the alternative timetables had been put in place.

Operators have temporarily doubled the time you can apply for a refund on tickets to 56 days. Again you have to go back to the vendor – be it a train firm or a website such as Trainline.

Normally carnet tickets bought in fives or 10s cannot be refunded if one has been used. However, partial refunds are now being processed. The same rules on cutting up and photographing the tickets apply, meaning some passengers face a long-winded process as each ticket will have to be processed individually.

What about travel in London?

Transport for London says users can now apply online for a backdated Oyster card refund, provided they bought the ticket from TfL and there is at least six weeks remaining on an annual ticket, or seven unused days on a monthly ticket. Users need to apply within eight weeks of their last journey. For many, this gives Londoners a couple more weeks to make the application to get the maximum amount back.

Again the amount refunded is based on the price, minus the cost of the equivalent travelcards you would have needed for the period of time you used it to travel.

If you bought your ticket using a loan from your employer, you will need contact the employer to get your refund, says TfL.