Professor Evans, checking the small print and chancing your arm

Alan Collins

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Throughout my work in the pensions industry, I find myself continually being surprised by the effects of small print, either in scheme rules, insurance policies or in the legislative framework governing pension schemes. So you would think that I always check the finer detail.

And if you can’t remember to check the small print, at least remember “case law”.

But alas, before embarking on my return journey home to Glasgow from nearby York on Wednesday, I did neither.

To help control my employer’s expenses, I did some research and found that purchasing an advance single train ticket from York to Glasgow for my return journey was the most cost effective approach. On departure from the meeting, I was offered a lift by car to Darlington (heading in the right direction) where I could connect with my train. Good idea, yes?

On arrival at Darlington, I checked at the ticket desk – “My ticket is still fine, given that I’m catching the same train?” Simple answer, surely, but always polite to check. The response was a bit of a shock. The lady behind the desk, I didn’t catch her name – let’s just call her Mrs Jobsworth, said “No, that would count as a “broken” journey . You would need to go back to York to catch the train but you’ll be too late. It will cost £40 to change the ticket over.” I was then handed a leaflet containing said small print which confirmed I had to start and end my journey at the stations stated on the ticket. The fact that I was using their services for a lesser period didn’t seem to count.

Now in my mind, travelling back to York to try and catch a train which will shortly arrive in the station I was actually in struck me as possibly one of the most stupid suggestions I had ever heard. Mrs Jobsworth’s final suggestion was that I could just “chance my arm” to see if I got away with it. My predicament did eventually remind me of a staggering piece of “case law” – that of Professor Martyn Evans, who was charged an additional £155 by the same train company for getting off a stop early compared with the destination on his ticket (it was subsequently waived).

So chance my arm I did, and low and behold, an outbreak of common sense. I took my seat (which was no doubt unused between York and Darlington), I gave a truthful account to the conductor and he said “It’s the same train you are on, so no problem”. I didn’t try to correct him with Mrs Jobsworth’s small print.

Lessons Learned

1. Always check the small print;
2. Remember the case law;
3. Sometimes it’s worth chancing your arm; and
4. If you look hard enough, there are still pockets of common sense to be found.

Alan Collins

Post by Alan Collins

Head of Trustee Advisory Services at Spence he provides actuarial, funding and investment advice to trustees and sponsors of ongoing defined benefit schemes.