Penalty Fares

What are Penalty Fares?

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.

Train operators can reduce the number of people who travel without a ticket in a number of ways, depending on their network. On long-distance trains, it is often possible for the on-board staff to check every passenger's ticket. On rural routes, trains stop more often but as they usually have fewer coaches and carry a smaller number of passengers, on-board ticket checks can also be effective.

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 the past, tickets have been inspected by staff at ticket barriers but it is very expensive to provide staff at every ticket barrier and also inconvenient for passengers. An alternative is to operate a 'Penalty Fares' scheme.

How do Penalty Fares work?

A Penalty Fare scheme works on the same principle as a 'pay and display' car park, where motorists may have to pay a penalty if they do not buy a ticket when they park.

Where Penalty Fares apply, rail passengers must buy 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 a 'Penalty Fares Collector'.

When can Penalty Fares be issued?

Penalty Fares can be issued if a passenger,

  • travels without a valid ticket;
  • is unable to produce an appropriate railcard on a discounted ticket;
  • travels in First Class accommodation with a Standard ticket;
  • is aged 16 or over, travelling on a child rate ticket;
  • travels beyond the destination on their ticket.

How much does a Penalty Fare cost?

The penalty is £20.00 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. You will not be entitled to any Railcard discount, or special fare that would have been available before travel has started  (such as a Railcard discount or an Off-Peak ticket).

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 apply if you travelling from a Penalty Fare station, or are in a Compulsory Ticket Area. Penalty Fare stations are clearly indicated as such by means of signs and large yellow posters (example above). Your local train company will also be able to advise.

Stations that are included in a Penalty Fare scheme can also be found on our station page at You can find a station  by searching by name or CRS code (a 3-letter code assigned to every National Rail station in Great Britain), and checking the 'Ticket buying and collection' panel.

How do I avoid a Penalty Fare?

1. 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.

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

3. If you are unable to purchase a Permit to Travel or Promise to Pay, you should obtain a ticket from the conductor or guard on the train, or at the first opportunity.

Penalty Fares and the Law

There is guidance available to help passengers understand when a Penalty Fare is issued and how to appeal if you think it has been unfairly issued. This guidance can be downloaded by clicking the link below.



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