“First £3,500 ticket doesn’t work? Just spend another £3,500”, say Southeastern

Six weeks ago we reported on the launch of The Key, Southeastern’s Not-Very-Smart-Card. It seemed very limited – season tickets only, no Pay-As-You-Go, no automatic Delay-Repay, not even compatible with TfL Oyster/Contactless or the similarly-named Key on Southern. But we’re getting reports that it is not even working for season tickets – and that some of our supporters are having to buy second tickets.

Feedback from our members and supporters have confirmed our very low expectations of this poor man’s Oyster card. Our original article has triggered a record number of comments.

Some parts of the season ticket processes do not seem to have been thought through, or perhaps are not ready. For instance there seems no way for annual season ticket holders to get Gold Card discounts on other rail travel other than to keep their paper ticket (as well). And, in some circumstances, there is a very narrow time ‘window’ to transfer a paper ticket onto the Key card – that assumes that all the systems are working when you have to do it.

However most troubling is that some supporters – such as Adam K and Ciaran – have been unable to load tickets that they bought online onto their Key cards, and that neither the ticket office nor Southeastern Customer Services are able to help. In at least one case a supporter reports that, having spent £3,500 on an annual season ticket that didn’t load onto the Key card, he was told by Southeastern that he had to spend a further £3,500 on a paper ticket – leaving his shiny new Key card only good for scraping ice off his car’s windscreen. That’s surely a new low for customer service, even by Southeastern’s standards.

It seems that the implementation of the Key may have been rushed to meet the DfT deadline of December 2016 and that design of supporting business processes, testing of the system and training of staff to support it have been lacking. The result is that some passengers switching to The Key are frustrated and suffering – and in some cases seriously out of pocket –  because they’ve effectively been lumbered with doing Southeastern’s testing work for them.

We’ve been in touch with Southeastern at mangement level. They’ve offered to help sort out the individual cases that our supporters have highlighted, and that’s in hand. More generally they acknowledge that there have been technical problems, but say “most” of these have now been resolved; and they also acknowledge that there may have been staff error. They say that the “overwhelming majority of season ticket holders who have successfully transferred their paper-based tickets to the Key have not reported any problems”. However that’s a bit of a tautology (if it was successful then there wouldn’t have been any problems). More importantly the people who are out of pocket are those who have tried to buy a season ticket to be loaded directly onto their Key card – those who have paper tickets can obviously continue to use them if they cannot be transferred to the Key.

If you have had any experiences – good or bad – with The Key on Southeastern, please let us know here.


“First £3,500 ticket doesn’t work? Just spend another £3,500”, say Southeastern — 63 Comments

  1. Transferred my paper Annual Gold Card to The Key last week. The paper ticket (but not photocard) was taken by the station staff when handing me my Key card (to prevent me passing on to somebody else, I suppose.)

    The Key has worked thus far, bar a read failure this morning at Cannon St.

    The member of staff who issued me with The Key card said that I should receive in the post my additional card/piece of paper confirming Gold Card benefits, but there was no timeline on this. As an interim measure he photocopied my paper season Gold Card, but did warn that might not be sufficient to prove I have a Gold Card on my Key.

    I will give it until next week before calling Southeastern if my Gold Card supplementary has not arrived.

  2. Hi @secretary,

    The staff member at the gateline waved me through her open gate and said something to the effect of ‘it’s been swiped twice.’ It worked fine later on in the day.


  3. I transferred my Annual in December 2016, but was told to keep hold of my paper ticket, as Southeastern will NOT have the facility to issue Gold Record cards until December 2018 at the very earliest, once the Crossrail Franchise begins. That is why they explained to me to hold onto my paper ticket in case of need for Gold Card Discount usage.

  4. @kai Thanks. We cannpt think what the connection between Crossrail amd Gold cards could be – there’s a separate issue about what to do about “London Terminals” tickets when Croosrail (and full Thameslink) do not terminate in London at all!

  5. As I said above, the SE agent I dealt with at Cannon Street said the Gold Card supplementary would arrive in the post. If this is not received next week I shall contact SE and ensure that my GC benefits are confirmed.

  6. Rang SE on Thursday and the agent said they had just received notice that they are aware of delays in issuing GC supplementaries (surprise, surprise) but they expect to commence issuing them in the next few days. We shall see.

  7. I buy 2 monthly tickets at the cost of around £800 every month for an employee and myself. Our first keys to top up were on the 4th Jan 17, these wouldn’t load until 2 and half weeks later, causing us not being let through the gates at London bridge by the staff that say its our fault and we need to sort out the problem, excess fares staff sending emails to customer service on our behalf but couldn’t do anything for us, ticket offices saying they cannot do anything for us. Called customer service and he said he couldn’t do anything but just keep trying! So out of the first months ticket we managed to get 1 and half weeks travel that was stress free! Only to buy this months one and find it wouldn’t and still hasn’t worked again! We are having numerous problems getting out of London bridge and into it EVERY day! As if this isn’t stressful enough after paying over £800 today the member of staff on the gate this morning was accusing us of trying to get free travel because he has seen us 3 times, he was stating ‘WE had to sort it out!’ That its our fault and he wasn’t letting us out as he believed we were trying to travel for free! This is SO embarrassing when someone is trying to make a statement in front of all the other passengers and not wanting to listen to what we are saying. I was livid with the way he spoke to me and will be filming the next time he is at our gate because we should not be greeted by this abuse when he knows full well they are trialing this product on the customers that are paying excessive fares for the service anyway! This footage will be shown to his managers and posted on social media if he thinks he can treat us in this way again.

  8. Meanwhile, I haven’t even been able to register for Southeastern Rewards by using my Key card details. Southeastern have been trying to do this on my behalf since December but haven’t succeeded.

    However, now that the Rewards seem so unexciting, I doubt if I’d ever bother to take part !

    Even if it can eventually be made to work, the whole Key scheme just seems a waste of time.

  9. @gerry – the so-called “rewards” were always unexciting and no better (and often worse) than affiliate deals available through thousands of channels. My comrade-in-arms, Phil Rogers, pointed this out to them at launch time.


    We expect nothing less of them.

  10. Believe what you will…

    Called SE again this morning as my GC supplementary has still not arrived. The agent was very keen to explain to me that, following an ‘error’ with copying data in Excel (I work in IT and this worries even me !) they have fixed the issue today and GC supps should arrive by next Monday.

    Again, we shall see…

  11. One small addition…

    I used my Key card today through the Southwark/Waterloo East link for the first time and, to my pleasant surprise, it worked !

    Credit where it’s due…

  12. @Secretary – I have a Dunton Green to London Terminals Annual Gold Card, no Travelcard.

  13. @Nick Thanks – good news that the Key with this product passed the TfL barriers at Southwark – there have been problems about this with paper tickets.

  14. Indeed. Whether those who have had problems will simply have those problems transferred to the Key remains to be seen. Maybe somebody could confirm ?…

  15. Even South West Trains have updated their barriers at Waterloo (SWT) and Vauxhall, so I managed to use my Key card to make a return journey between Waterloo and Vauxhall and back again with a London Terminals Ticket loaded onto it.

  16. Gold Card still not arrived, shock horror. Agent said that all GCs should have arrived last week as they had fixed the database issue.

    As I haven’t got mine I’m classed as an aberration and require individual investigation by ‘another team.’

    I should receive a reply in 48 hours.

    Has ANYBODY got one yet ?

  17. No response from SE despite last week’s promise. Agent today advised that there is still a larger issue under investigation etc and so on.

    I explained that, on Friday, I was almost denied using my GC photocopy by a ticket seller as it wasn’t per their process etc. Agent today advised that if, whilst waiting for the new GC, I am refused a discounted ticket, I can retain the ticket and send in for a refund of the discounted amount.

    I asked them if they actually exist, and he said they had seen a picture of one ! But no positive confirmation that anybody has actually received one yet.

  18. They DO NOT exist, how can something simple take so long to come through.

  19. It looks like its time to raise the problem with your local MP, if the dispute did end up in court, like the Bank’s PPI dispute from 1990 did, Southeastern might be unable to prove in court, that they were right, and might even be held liable for deliberately misleading customers with intent, in similar fashion to the PPI mis-selling scandal of 1990-1999. Only a Court of Law can decide on this matter.
    Anyway, from the evidence received so far, they are inventing excuses that will not stand up in a Court of Law, instead of admitting the truth of “Sorry Southeastern is Unable and Unwilling to supply any Gold Record Card with their Key Smartcard Annual Tickets – Tough Luck.”

  20. @kai A key question would be whether customers are losing money. Are Southeastern actually honouring the offer to pay back on undiscounted fares?

  21. Fifth call to SE customer services this morning. No update. I said that I won’t leave the call until I have a promise of contact from either a manager or somebody from The Key team (based in Newcastle it seems !) I have been promised at least one call back today.

    I have also sent an email to David Statham and Diane Burke.

  22. Reply from David Statham today, copied in full (incl. my mails too) :-

    Many thanks for your reply, David.

    Shall I write back to you if I have not received my GC proof within two weeks ?

    (I was promised a call back by a manager within 24 hours of my most recent contact with your customer services department yesterday morning. I have not received that call.)

    Kind regards,


    On 17 Mar 2017, at 16:26, Statham, David wrote:

    Dear Mr Goodwin

    Thank you for your email sent to me on 16 March. I’m very sorry to hear of the issues you’ve had with obtaining proof of an annual Goldcard since moving your season ticket to our Key card.

    I understand currently you’re using a stamped photocopy of your season ticket in order to obtain the discount on National Rail tickets; however you’re worried this proof will not suffice and the discount refused, after it’s been queried by the ticket office previously.

    I can see our Key team have been in correspondence with you yesterday, confirming we’re investigating the problem. However please accept my sincere apologies for the time this is taking to resolve.

    The initial problem arose due to a technical issue which meant passengers did not receive their Goldcard record card with the purchase of an Annual season ticket. I’m please to say that this issue has now been rectified and all those affected should receive their Goldcard in the next couple of weeks, if not already.

    Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact me and I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused.

    Yours sincerely

    David Statham
    Managing Director

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Nick Goodwin
    Sent: 16 March 2017 12:14
    To: Burke, Diane ; Statham, David
    Subject: The Key – Gold Card replacements

    Dear David and Diane,

    On 23rd January I transferred my annual gold card season ticket to The Key. When I collected The Key at the station I had to surrender my old gold card ticket even though there were no new gold card ‘proof’ cards ready for new Key users.

    I have been using a stamped photocopy of my old gold card to continue to receive the associated benefits but I am worried it will not always be accepted – only last Friday a ticket seller almost refused to sell me a discounted ticket to which I was entitled.

    I have called your customer services department five times to ask for this to be resolved and there is still no update as to when I will receive the new gold card. I don’t know why the Key was launched without this fundamental aspect of it not being ready.

    I would now like to politely demand that I receive my due gold card ‘proof’ card asap, please can you ensure this is done ?


    Nick Goodwin

  23. @nick Thanks for this. It’s disappointing that David Statham’s reply shows no sign that they have found your card. Perhaps this time the card will turn up “in a couple of weeks” – let us know if it does!

  24. Mention Court Action will be taken regarding this deliberately delayed gold card in any future contact.

  25. @ Nick Goodwin

    Well done for spotting that the new Gold Record Card is useless without a Photocard. This is illogical.

    Southeastern’s FAQs state “A paper photocard is NOT required when travelling on The Key; our Key card will have your name printed on the front”. The Key on its own is good enough for unlimited travel, and your Gold Record Card shows your name and your card number, so why is any additional authentication needed to buy a discounted ticket, especially if paid by a credit or debit card in the same name?

    Many people will be caught out by this at the last minute and will end up losing their Gold Card discounts, thereby boosting Southeastern’s profits. Perhaps that is the intention?

    Another blunder is that the Gold Record Card Ts & Cs refer to the National Conditions of Carriage — which had already been replaced by the National Conditions of Travel well before The Key was launched !

    Once again, this just shows that The Key is a rushed and bodged project that offers very few benefits for passengers.

  26. I’ve sent them an email to ask about this, will let all know when I receive a reply.

  27. Reply received today confirming Photocard is NOT required in addition to the Gold Record Card, see below. It only refers though to Sourheastern staff and not other TOCs, so I’ve asked them to confirm that too.

    “Dear Mr Goodwin

    Thank you for your webform dated 25 March 2017 in relation to using a Gold Record Card.

    I’m happy to learn that you have received your Gold Record Card after transferring your annual season ticket onto a Key smartcard in January. I appreciate this may have caused problems, especially as you might not have been able to receive all the perks and benefits of having an annual season ticket

    I’m also pleased to inform you that a Gold Record Card on its own will be enough to prove to our members of staff that you have an annual season ticket onto your Key card and you will not have to show your photocard. This will allow you to enjoy all the benefit that comes with having an annual season ticket such as getting discounts for family members.”

  28. @nick Thanks for the update. The acceptability to other train companies is of course very important.

  29. Some good news,my Gold Record Card finally arrived yesterday, drawing this story to a satisfactory conclusion.

  30. Have lost my Key Card and Southeastern clearly state you can get a replacement online. My ticket cost £4650 and I have been told they cannot replace the ticket. The whole point of switching to the Key was, if I would lose the ticket I could replace it!

    Southeastern have said they will refund my ticket but I cannot affor to buy an annual one again!

  31. My Key card stopped being read at any gate point/TVM a few weeks ago. I requested a replacement per the online process that SE advertise.

    Upon chasing this up I have been told that their supplier cannot issue replacement Key cards whilst they are in date. It’s been outstanding for weeks and they can’t seem to get the supplier what to do. Pathetic.

    They have given me options of going back to a paper ticket or buying daily tickets and getting refunds. None of which are acceptable.

    I’ve requested a call back from a manager – if that fails (which it will) I am writing to the CEO and the Commercial Director who visited our group a few months ago.

    Please can you let me know their email addresses if you know them ?


  32. Received a key card last week, but annual travel card not loaded on to the key so cannot use.

  33. @Nick

    We can pursue this through our channels if you like.

    Just to be clear, your Key Card has stopped working but (despite what the website says) you have been told that the card cannot be replaced until what date (the expiry of the card itself? the expiry of the ticket put on the card?).

    As you say, one of the claimed merits of the smart card was that if it is lost it can be easily replaced, together with the ticket(s) loaded on it.

    We actually have a meeting with the Commercial Director on 16 August on other matters, and can raise it then.

  34. Which station did you try to load the annual ticket onto the card please? Were you trying to convert an existing paper ticket or had you bought a new ticket to be loaded directly on to the card?

  35. I received a call back the day after I posted the above to be told that I had been given incomplete info !

    Apparently there is a test next week to see if a fix to the issue is resolved. I’ve been promised a call back next week at some point with the outcome.

    We shall see. I will report back.

  36. So I wasn’t called back, so called back myself today. The ‘software test’ did not work for a section of customers who had their Key Cards issued before a certain date.

    As such, they have no idea how to resolve it, nor how long it will take. So I was offered to revert to a paper ticket, which I have opted to do as I don’t really have a choice – I’m fed up of asking gateline staff to let me through.

    Because I threw my old photocard away (as I was told it was no longer needed) I had to go to a local station to get a new Photocard, and then phone SE back with the ref number. My paper ticket request has now gone to some management team for approval.

    I doubt I will bother with the Key ever again.

    One thing to note – the agent I dealt with said that the Photocard would be useful in case it was needed to be shown on non-SE services when using a gold card discount – despite being told this was not necessary.

    I’ll leave you to follow this all up with the Commercial Director etc as I don’t have the energy for their (pretty much) criminal/cartel behaviour.

  37. I’ve just collared the Commercial Director at the Meet the Manager session at Cannon St. She says that what I’ve been told, and the paper ticket workaround, is completely unacceptable and I should be issued with a replacement Key card.

    She’s taken my details and promised to resolve things. More to follow.

  38. @nick Thanks for the update. We’re seeing her tomorrow – this is one of a number of issues with the Key.

  39. Just had a call from SE. They have, following the promise made to me yesterday, resolved the issue for me, and I should have a new Key card next week.

    It’s a one off though, just because senior management have asked for my case to be resolved – the underlying issue still remains.

    Amazing what can be done.

  40. It is caused by using Junior School Leavers, with NO experience, on the front line, as is the case with many other companies, hence the problems we all have experienced. If more mature experienced staff were on the front line, the customer experience will be miles better, as they will know what they are doing for a start!

  41. @kai That may be an element of it. But there are more systemic problems too:

    • Southeastern contracted out the “customer service” centre – so the contact centre managers are probably incentivised to tell staff to clear the call quickly by saying that the customer service centre cannot help.
    • We get reports of ticket offices refusing to help too. Staff there are usually well trained for their role (given the complexity of the ticket system they have to be) so it looks as though they have not been factored into the Key support arrangements either.
    • The Key has been implemented on DfT orders to a deadline. It looks as though it has not been integrated with the rest of the business, with support through all the contact channels (including scripts for the customer service centre and access to the Key backoffice computer systems for them and ticket office staff) and without a full system design of all that could go wrong and a set of business processes to correct matters.

    It does not help matters that Southeastern do not run the “back office” themselves – they were compelled by DfT to use a central facility.

  42. Just a minor addition – Diane Burke, Commercial Director, personally called me earlier to ask that the issue had been resolved. Nice touch.

  43. @nick Thanks for the update. Let’s hope that it continues to work for a whole year!

  44. Bought ticket online £5052.00, it would not load onto the key, after many phone calls they agreed to refund the money so I can purchase a paper ticket, this takes 3-5 working days. I’m having to buy daily tickets at a cost of £41.70 per day until the money is refunded, Southeastern customer services have informed me that they will not reimburse me for the extra travel costs. The reason given is they are reimbursing me in full so any refund of additional tickets means I am getting travel for free. Never mind I had to spend hours on the phone over 5 days to get anywhere. They should refund me for the distress it has all caused. No sign of refund yet!!

  45. @Jean Thanks for sharing your experiences. The fact that all they can do is refund the payment and then ask you to buy a paper ticket shows that their systems and their customer service is not joined up. If you had bought a paper ticket and it had been damaged by them then you would have received a replacement ticket valid for the original period, and you would have been able to reclaim the day tickets that you had had to buy while it was replaced. Their argument is, I suppose, that your new ticket will not cover the period during which you bought day tickets? But what about the contract you had with them for travel at season ticket rates from the date that you originally paid for the Key ticket?

  46. @Jean Whiist I was having my Key troubles I didn’t buy any daily tickets, I simply showed my Key Card and Gold Record Card at the ticket gates and they let me through everytime.

    Appreciate you may not have a GRC though.

  47. Southeastern are far too arrogant to work with the Ombudsman, so hit them where it hurts: send MD David Statham an invoice via registered post for the excess fares, plus your very valuable time at say £50 per hour, plus costs of telephone calls and postage, plus £25 for all the inconvenience and frustration.

    If they don’t agree to pay promptly, submit a claim via the small claims court.

    It’s hard to see how Southeastern could seriously argue that you should pay more because of a failure of their technology: it’s more likely that they’ll finally see sense and back down.

    But if they simply don’t bother to turn up, you’ve won by default and can send in the bailiffs if necessary !

  48. I renew my sons season ticket every school term. My youngest’s sons works perfectly, my eldest unfortunately doesnt. Each time I spend about 5 hours over a period of 2 weeks trying to sort it. Each time no-one understands why it is happening. Today 4th Sept 17 – was 2 hours and I am waiting a call back. The KEY is no longer allocated to the account. In previous attempts I have had to reapply for a new keycard and wait the 2 weeks for it to arrive and then I am able to buy the ticket on the latest card. I am hoping for a quicker resolution today. – probably niavely.

  49. @rebecca Thanks for this. Again it sounds as though basic flaws in the system are not being sorted out, and still the lack of joined up customer service.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *