The Department for Transport has introduced new penalty fare rules in the hope of offering greater protection to rail passengers who have made a genuine mistake. The Railway (Penalty Fares) Regulations 2018 is effective from 6 April 2018 with the penalty fare guidance having last been updated on 1 May 2002.
The Regulations relate to rail passengers who have not paid the correct fare with the update seeking to protect those who have a genuine reason for travelling without holding a valid ticket or authority. These passengers will now have a further opportunity to challenge a penalty with an independent panel which is not connected to any of the rail operators.
The Penalty Fare Guidelines 2018 includes an estimate that ‘fare dodgers’ deprive the railway of £200 million every year and the penalty fare system has long been in place as a deterrent. The updates introduce a further appeal which will allow the process to include enhanced consideration as to how and why a penalty has been issued, no doubt making it fairer for those who have made an honest and genuine mistake.
Rail passengers who travel on the rail network are required to purchase and hold a valid ticket or authority for their journey. Penalty fares can be issued when a rail passenger travels without a valid ticket, is unable to produce a railcard for a discounted ticket, remains on a train beyond the destination they have paid for or travels in the wrong class. They can be issued on the train, at a station or at a compulsory ticket area (such as a train platform) and are distinct from an unpaid fares notice.
There are occasions where a rail passenger travels without a valid ticket and a penalty fare is not issued. A rail operator can sell the correct ticket if facilities were not available at the start of a journey, charge the difference between the ticket held to the correct ticket price or report the rail passenger for prosecution of ticketless travel.
It is a separate offence for a rail passenger to withhold their personal details when being issued with a penalty fare. The rail operator has a legal right to ask for a passengers name and address. It can also be seen as an attempt by the rail passenger to evade the fare.
The penalty fare system has always included an appeals process, but the updated Regulations include a further level of appeal. A rail passenger can first use the First Stage Appeal if they appeal within 21 days starting the day after the penalty fare has been issued. If a First Stage Appeal is denied, a Second Stage Appeal can be made within 14 days of receiving the decision.
A further appeal can now be made using the Final Stage Appeal if an appeal is declined at both the first and second stage. It must be made within 14 days of the decision to deny the Second Stage Appeal. The Final Stage Appeal will be conducted by an independent panel of three members, of which the majority decision will determine the outcome and it will be entirely independent of rail operators. The panel will contemplate information provided in the previous stages of the appeal alongside any additional information a rail passenger provides. They will consider mitigation circumstances and apply a test of ‘reasonableness’ which will allow for circumstances outside the scope of the rules.
The update not only offers a further appeal for passengers to a panel independent of train operators but in addition hopes to make the appeals system more consistent across rail operators.