How to appeal against a penalty fare notice from South West Trains

This post is a little 'off-topic', so I'll keep it brief. I travel a lot by South West Trains [SWT}. Peak train fares in Britain are the highest in Europe (source: Campaign For Better Transport) and it pains me to think that I spend just over £4k a year of my hard-earned cash getting around by train. 

And let's be honest, the service is patchy at best. Few can forget how the SWT network fell apart when snow fell in London and the South East in February 2009. And so I felt pretty cheesed-off to be given a £60 Penalty Fare Notice at Southampton station for not having a ticket recently. 

A) The story:

I'll keep it brief, but I successfully appealed against the penalty fare notice. The reason being is there were no facilities to buy a ticket where I boarded the train at Woking (the ticket office was being refurbished) and I couldn't buy a ticket on the train (the ticket collector's machine was broken). 

But it took bloody ages to sort out and involved a trawl through pages of rules and regulation about where and when penalty fares can be issued.

B) Receiving a penalty fare notice: 

South West Trains takes an overly-aggressive stance on fare evaders in my opinion. It's embarrassing and, even, intimidating to be issued with a penalty fare on a packed train, when you
may have just accidentally lost your ticket or left a rail card at home. But the general philosophy of
South West Trains appears to be guilty until proven innocent, when it comes to dealing with its customers. 

But a procedure exists for how penalty fare notices are issued and you need to be aware of your rights.

A penalty fare on South West Trains will be £20 or twice the full single
to the next station at which
your train stops.
You will also have to pay the standard ticket cost, if you wish to continue your journey (
they need to sell you the ticket that you should be in possession of). As the South West Trains sites states if you wish to appeal against a penalty fare you must do so in writing within 21 days of the issue date and send this to:

Independent Appeals Service, PO BOX 212, Petersfield, GU32 2BQ

Alternatively you can appeal online at:

Independent Revenue Collection and Support (IRCAS)

This appeals service is independent of train operators. Indeed, SWT (and other train operators) has to pay IRCAS to investigate appeals (I think it's around about £8 per an appeal) regardless of the outcome. It is generally worth appealing, as you have nothing to lose.

C) What you need to pay when you get a penalty fare

As mentioned, there are two elements the penalty fare (a minimum of £20) and the cost of the ticket you should have bought. You do not have to pay the penalty fare there and then (and you should not do so). You have 21 days to do this (or make an appeal). 

But you must pay the standard cost of the ticket to where you are going (or have come from). If you don't do this, then they will probably call the police. This article assumes (obviously) that you are not deliberately fare-dodging.

D) Appealing against a penalty fare notice from South West Trains

To succeed, you need to read two documents:

Don't bother reading the South West Train's summary leaflet of Penalty Fares Rules 2002. There are many potential ways you can appeal that this document seems to miss out.

For your claim to be successful, you will need to appeal on the grounds that a penalty fare was not issued according to the rules set by the Department For Trade & Industry- Penalty Fares Rules 2002. You need to be very specific about how one (or more) of these rules were broken or were not applied. 

Incidently, I didn't find it at all easy to get hold of the full Penalty Fares Rules 2002 document. Staff at the SWT station didn't seem to know much about it and they should be able to supply a copy. 

D) Penalty Fare Rules – some interesting grounds of appeal: 

 A lot of appeals are won on technicalities, so take note of the following:

A) Check display of warning notices:

Penalty Fare Rules: "An operator who wants to charge penalty fares must make sure that a
warning notice is displayed at each entrance of each compulsory ticket
area……be noticeable, easy to read and easy to distinguish from other notices and from the general surroundings" 

The signs warning of a 'compulsory ticket area' are big and yellow. You should not be able to board a train without seeing one. So if you can't see them,then that is a grounds for an appeal. In my case, where I boarded, there was a temporary entrance to the station and it would have been possible to board a train without seeing one of the signs. 

SRA Penalty Rules 2002 states that penalty warning signs should be "so that at least one notice can be easily seen by anyone joining a penalty fares train" – so that's quite strict!

B) On-board ticket inspector can't issue penalty fares

Penalty Fare Rules: "No-one except an authorised collector may collect penalty fares on behalf of any operator….Each authorised collector must carry, and produce if asked,
identification which proves that he or she is authorised to collect
penalty fares on behalf of a specific operator or operators."

the average ticket inspector you find on just about any train can't issue penalty fares (they need to be a revenue protection officer, I think that is the correct terminology). However, weirdly, ticket inspectors can sell you a ticket if you don't have one. That's your 'get out a jail' free card. If you jump on a train without a ticket, make sure you go and find a ticeket inspector (more on this later!).

C) Do facilities exist for you to buy a ticket?

Penalty Fare Rules state that a penalty can not be charged when: "There were no facilities available to issue the appropriate ticket or
other authority for the journey which that person wanted to make."

-Interpretation: If a ticket office is closed or there are less windows open than normal or you have to wait in line, you may have a case to appeal. Ticket offices are often closed at non-peak times, but there must be a way of buying a ticket with cash AND buy it using credit/debit card. But what is a reasonable amount of time to queue to buy a ticket? This is where it gets vague…. 

SRA Penalty Fares May 2002 states: "Where penalty fares apply, passengers must allow enough time to buy a ticket, including time to queue, if necessary. Under normal circumstances, passengers may still be charged a penalty are if they join a train without a ticket, even if there was a queue at the ticket office or ticket machine.

"However, we expect operators to provide enough ticket windows, ticket machines
and staff at staffed stations to meet the queueing standards set out in the Ticketing and Settlement Agreement and their Passenger’s Charter under normal circumstances. This standard is normally five minutes at peak times and three minutes at other times."

D) You thought you could buy a ticket on the train – yes, you can!

One of the weirdest rules, is the fact that you can buy train tickets on-board a train from the ticket inspector. Indeed on-board ticket inspectors get a small bonus (around 5%) when selling tickets. You may not be able to get your normal rail card discounts, but they can normally sell you standard tickets.

Even the SRA seems to think this a bit strange: "The basic principle of any penalty fares scheme is that passengers must buy their tickets before they get on their train. If passengers find that they can buy their ticket on the train it undermines this message".

This confusion needs to be cleared-up. People will board trains without tickets if they know they can probably buy one on-board. Simple as that! 

E) If the train service is disrupted that is grounds for an appeal.

Authorised collectors have discretion to not to issue penalty fare notices. This would apply to those with mobility problems, the elderly or heavily pregnant and "all passengers when the train service is severely disrupted." Special rules apply to children as well.

In short, there are many ways to appeal, but you need to read the rules carefully. It's actually well worth making an appeal as you have nothing to lose.

Also, if you think that the private train operators are the biggest thieves around (as opposed to innocent passengers), why not sign up to Campaign For Better Transport.

Useful links to external sites to help with appeals.

            (great advise about what to do if you queue to buy a ticket or windows are closed)

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4 Responses to How to appeal against a penalty fare notice from South West Trains

  1. Max W November 17, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Thanks very much indeed for this. I am currently appealing a £20 penalty fare which was incurred because the ticket office was closed.

    It was rejected on the grounds that I did not get an Oyster Extension Permit (ever heard of that?!) but when I went to the link in THE IAS’s rejection letter it said that OEPs have been defunct since May 2011, so as you say they do not know their own rules.

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts re threatening Citizens advice/ small claims court (I have made this threat).

  2. darrell marsh February 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm #

    thank you very much for doing this to my boyfriend and my brother who were both issued a £20 penalty fare notice and they where on the train from margate to herne bay and the ticket man was on he way to give them a ticket but they were stop because my brother got up to get the money out to get a ticket man for the both of them and instead there issued the penalty fare notice is not right it should not be given out to them they where aware of the ticket mechines but the r both read so they know there would be a ticket man on the train because they saw him but they could not get to him becasue there was a women talking to him and getting a ticket which all this made my boyfriend and late for the denist in henre bay and then the ticket man got them to pay for a ticket still and then would not let them back on the train which they had money on them because we got pay and so they had money for a ticket and also i think it is not far that so there for they had to get my brotherlawer to bring them home so if get this msg then get back to me by e-mail me thank you for reading tis from Miss Makala Greenaway

  3. Luke Y November 18, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Very interesting article, particularly the information on the Guardian site and the information about adequate facilities that stations should provide in order for people to purchase their tickets in time.

    I was fined this morning. I arrived with a few minutes spare to purchase a ticket and board a train, I believe I had about 4mins before my train arrived. There was a queue at every terminal however and I decided to board my train and ask a guard for a ticket, I had done this before when in a rush and successfully purchased a ticket. This morning however I bumped into some old jobsworth mumbling about “Revenue Protection”. I have appealed the fine citing the queues and the fact that you can purchase a ticket from a Ticket Inspector undermines the whole bloody process.

    I will comment on here when I know if my appeal has been successful or not. Either way this article was informative and a decent read. I thoroughly agree, SWT are theives and they provide a terrible, unreliable service.

  4. SteveH November 18, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    I really can’t stand South West trains. The thing that bugs me the most these days is how crap even their weekend service is. The way they run only short trains, so people have to stand. And then there are the engineering works / replacement bus service.

    Thanks for your comments. Make sure you appeal. Lack of ticketing facilities is often a justified reason. Machines are often out of order. You have nothing to lose, plus it costs the train operator money regardless of the result. May the force be with you.