How to get a refund on your season ticket – and why you might not get back as much as you think

Commuters trying to return season tickets may be disappointed by the refunds they receive – if they get one at all

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Commuters on an almost empty Jubilee Line train in London as the coronavirus crisis bites
Commuters on an almost empty Jubilee Line train in London as the coronavirus crisis bites Credit: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

Thousands of commuters will be looking for refunds on their season tickets, but many may be left out of pocket

Up to 40 London Underground stations have been closed in order to contain the spread of coronavirus and train operators are now running a reduced timetable.

Customers can ask for money back if they will not be using their ticket, but will not receive the full unused value and will have to pay an administration fee. Those who have used the majority of their ticket may not be entitled to anything at all. 

That means commuters cancelling their season ticket will lose £178 on average because of these 'partial refund' rules, according to calculations by Commuter Club, a ticketing service. 

Martyn James, of complaints service Resolver, said the refund rules are unfair and could mean many commuters are losing out simply for following their company's advice. 

Transport Focus, the official rail watchdog, is calling for those following the Government's guidance to work from home to be fully reimbursed for non-travel days.

To qualify for any kind of refund, a customer must have at least three days remaining on a weekly season ticket, seven days or more on a monthly ticket and 12 weeks on an annual ticket. 

However, rail companies do not simply return the unused value of the ticket. Instead, they work out the cheapest way the passenger could otherwise have bought the travel they have already used. For example, someone with a weekly ticket who has used it for four days will get back what they paid minus four peak time day return tickets. 

Rail firm GWR's website warns this may mean customers "find there's only a small amount, or nothing, to refund" when they return their season ticket. Returning the ticket means a customer forfeits all their remaining journeys.

A weekly ticket from Brighton to London costs around £105, while a day return ticket can cost £44. That means someone returning their ticket after four days of use would receive nothing back. Customers are also charged an administration fee of up to £10. 

Mr James said the period used to calculate the refund is arbitrary and may not reflect price variations over the year. 

However, commuters can temporarily "suspend" their season ticket if they are ill and will be refunded for the time for which they were unable to use it. To receive their money back, customers must supply a medical certificate.

Commuters with travel cards purchased from Transport for London (TfL) will be subject to the same refund rules and may not receive any money back. They will have to pay £5 to process the refund, although TfL said it is waiving that fee for customers who are having to self-isolate or have been told to work from home. 

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: "Train companies understand that these are exceptional times and that people may not wish to travel in the way they had originally planned.

"Season tickets can be refunded, depending on how long is left unused on them, and people should check National Rail Enquiries for what they might be entitled to."