One in four rail operators in the UK tends to mislead passengers over their compensation rights in cases of delays, a survey by consumer group Which? has revealed.

The company made a series of ‘mystery shop’ phone calls to 26 operators in a bid to find out how truthful customer helplines are when it comes to claiming redress to cover unexpected expenses as a result of delays. Staff at 12 out of the 26 operators was found to give wrong information on the matter.

With train operating company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) currently involved in a major timetable overhaul, which is resulting in tens of cancellations and delays every day, an increasing number of affected travellers may ask for compensation under the Consumer Rights Act and common law. These allow passengers to claim for losses when a company fails to deliver services with reasonable care and skill.

According to the survey, the six worst-performing operators, namely Cross Country, Grand Central, Greater Anglia, Heathrow Express, ScotRail and Stansted Express, all wrongly told Which? secret shoppers they could not claim compensation on every call.

The company said the cases of Heathrow Express and Stansted express were particularly concerning since, despite having different terms and conditions to the National Rail Conditions of Travel, they are still subject to consumer law. Such behaviour was in particular contrast with Gatwick Express, which said that any reasonable claim for additional costs due to delays will be considered.

ScotRail, Greater Anglia, Stansted Express and Grand Central said they do cover compensation, suggesting that the results of the survey have to do with individual staff members, rather than company policy. Heathrow Express also announced plans to retrain its staff in light of the survey results.

Which? found inconsistencies in how the issue was dealt by Arriva Wales, Chiltern, Southeastern, Thameslink/Great Northern, Virgin West Coast and West Midlands. Although these six franchises did not always give inaccurate advice, staff members were often inconsistent and incapable of explaining the available options properly.

The research also focused on rail operator websites, with 18 out of 26 found unable to provide useful information to customers about their compensation rights.

Which? managing director of public markets Alex Hayman said: “This is the latest in a catalogue of examples of train companies treating their passengers with breath-taking disregard. They have been warned time and again about their duties to ensure their passengers are getting the money they are owed when they fail to deliver, yet they fail to act until forced.

“The regulator must now start showing some teeth and take immediate enforcement action or the government has no choice but to step in and stand up for passengers and their rights.”