Rail Fare Penalty

What are Penalty Fares?
Penalty fares are usually set if you travel on a train without a valid ticket. These fares are usually a higher rate than the normal fares.

Our rail service providers claim that the Penalty Fares System is designed to protect the majority of customers from the minority of people who travel without a valid ticket for the journey they are making.

Obviously the train operators will try and work with the public as best as they can and will endeavor to reduce the number of people who travel without a ticket by on-board staff who are employed to check every passenger's ticket. However, on urban and suburban routes, where station stops are frequent and the trains are often busy, it is not always possible to check every passenger's ticket between every station.

In light of staff shortages, the need for greater efficiency of train travel and, as a way of trying to keep costs to a minimum and ensure greater profitably, train operators now operate a 'Penalty Fares' scheme.

How does this scheme work?
The Penalty Fare scheme is that if you do not buy a ticket before you travel on a train you may have to pay a penalty which usually costs more than the fare itself. 

Where Penalty Fares apply, rail passengers must purchase their tickets before they start their journey wherever there are facilities for them to do so. If a passenger gets on a train without a ticket at a station where ticket facilities are available, they will have to pay a Penalty Fare if asked to do so by a ticket inspector, who has been appointed as an 'authorised collector'. 

However, please note that only authorised collectors can issue these fines. Guards, who are not authorised collectors, will issue you with a ticket in accordance with Condition 2 of the National Rail Conditions of Carriage. This may mean that you are liable to pay the full single or return fare for the journey you have made or wish to make and you will not be entitled to any discounts (for example, Railcards) or special terms, which would otherwise apply. This is in accordance with Condition 2 of the National Rail Conditions of Carriage. When a guard issues you a ticket, a penalty fare 'warning' will also be issued so that you are aware of the penalty fare scheme should you be approached by an authorised penalty fare collector on your next journey.

It is important to note that penalty notices can be issued not only for a failure to buy a ticket at all but also for the following:

  • an inability to produce an appropriate railcard on a discounted ticket
  • travelling in first class accommodation with a standard ticket
  • being aged 16 or over whilst travelling on a child rate ticket
  • travelling beyond the destination that is on your ticket

How much does a Penalty Fare cost? 
If issued and paid as a fixed penalty then the penalty is £20 or twice the full single fare from the station where the passenger got on the train to the next station at which the train stops (whichever is the greater).

If the passenger wants to travel beyond the next station, they must also pay the relevant fare from that station to their final destination.

Where do Penalty Fares apply?
Penalty Fares only apply if you travelling from a Penalty Fare station.

Penalty Fare stations are all clearly indicated as such by means of signs and large yellow posters. Most main line stations are Penalty fare stations. Unmanned stations will not be.

When do I have to pay the penalty fare?
You do not have to pay the fare immediately but an authorised penalty fare collector may require you to pay the minimum payment, which will be the full standard single fare for the journey which you are making or have made. If you do not have the means to purchase a ticket and intend to avoid paying your fare, it is likely you will be prosecuted.

Usual excuses 
Can I not just pay on the train?
Not if you are travelling from a penalty fare station on a penalty fare train. If you, do you may be liable to a penalty fare.

What if there is no ticket office or, if there is, it is closed?
You are to use the self-service ticket machine or Permit to Travel machine provided at all the penalty fare stations. 

What if the self-service ticket or Permit to Travel machine(s) are out of order and there is no ticket office or, the ticket office is closed?
In these circumstances you can buy a ticket on the train. However please note that there is a system in place to ensure the authorised collectors are able to obtain real-time information about the availability of ticketing facilities at stations i.e. they will know if you are lying or not. 

If you are unable to purchase a valid ticket for travel, you should approach the on-train staff at the earliest opportunity.

What if I want to buy/renew a Season Ticket and the ticket office is closed?
If you have a photocard you can buy weekly season tickets from the self-service ticket machines. However, if you buy a monthly or longer season ticket you should purchase a single ticket for your destination or a permit to travel and then buy your season ticket at your destination. 

It is likely that the cost of your single ticket or Permit to Travel will be deducted from the cost of your Season Ticket. Only two refunds of this type will be considered in a 12 month period and an administration fee may be charged.

What if I realise I have forgotten my Season Ticket and/or photocard once I have joined my train?
If you realise, before it is requested, that you have forgotten your Season Ticket and/or photocard you will need to approach the staff on the train.

If a non-authorised collector approaches you, we advise you to buy a ticket and apply for a refund as detailed above.

If an authorised collector approaches you they will record details of your season ticket and issue you with an authority to travel. You must send this authority to travel together with a clear photocopy of your season ticket and photo card to the address detailed on the authority to travel. Failure to return the authority to travel or making a false claim may lead to prosecution.

What if a member of staff (authorised person) has told me it is okay to get on the train without a ticket? This gives you a lawful excuse to travel without a ticket under Byelaw 17(1) or 17(2) but you will still need to buy a ticket whilst on the train. 

As well as the fine, you may also be asked to leave the train and the railway station at the next available opportunity (i.e. the next stop). 

You have 21 days to appeal against the decision to be charged a penalty fare, or to pay the outstanding amount. If you do not choose either of these options, legal proceedings are likely to be brought against you. 

Even if you want to appeal, you must pay the fine. If you don’t you may be prosecuted before your appeal is even considered at which point it will be too late. So pay and appeal if that is your intention. If successful, your payment will be refunded. 

If you do not make the full payment upon request, the authorised collector will ask you for your name and address. You need to give your name and address to an authorised collector. Failure to do so, or to give a false name and address, is a further criminal offence and is likely to lead to prosecution.

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 the appeals address on the penalty fare notice. This appeals service (IRCAS) is independent and will consider your appeal based on the facts concerning the case. You can submit your appeal online at ircas.co.uk or post it to The Independent Appeals Service, PO BOX 212, Petersfield GU32 9BQ.

How do I avoid a Penalty Fare?
To avoid paying a Penalty Fare, you must purchase a valid ticket to your destination for the class of travel you wish to use before starting your journey.

If you are unable to do so, you must buy a Permit to Travel from the machines that are provided at most stations. This permit must be upgraded to a valid ticket at the first opportunity.

If you are unable to purchase a Permit to Travel, you should obtain a ticket from the Conductor on the train or at the first opportunity.

If you do not pay the fine in time, or at all, or if you dispute the fine, you are likely to be prosecuted.

You will be prosecuted under a Railway Byelaw being Section 219 of the Transport Act 2000 and Section 46 (1) of the Railways Act 2005 and schedule 9 to the same Act. 

What is a Byelaw?
Byelaws represent some of the oldest laws in the United Kingdom and can cover a variety of different matters. Byelaws are generally laws made by a local authority and as a result are only enforceable in that particular local authority catchment area.

If you are convicted you will face the following:

  • a fine of up to £1,000.00 (scale 3 fine)
  • a victim surcharge of £20.00
  • a Fare Compensation order (the relevant fare you avoided and which forms the basis of the prosecution) 
  • prosecution costs (these are usually fixed in the region of £125.00)

Criminal record
If you are successfully prosecuted you will end up with a criminal record, although the offence is not a recordable one.  

Top tips to avoid prosecution 

  • never get on a train without a valid ticket UNLESS you have a reasonable excuse (as above) 
  • find the guard - if you have a reasonable excuse DO NOT sit and wait for the guard to come to you so that you can buy a ticket 
  • check whether the person who intends on fining you is an ‘authorised penalty fare collector’. They will have badge identification 

We are seeing an upturn in people being prosecuted and even people being taken out of a queue waiting to purchase a ticket after travelling and being fined (despite waiting in the queue being a clear intention to purchase a ticket). 

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