Henriette Chaubon, a trained judge, has just been appointed as SNCF Ombudswoman, to replace Bernard Cieutat, who has retired after 11 years in the position.
The role of the new Ombudswoman is to facilitate the search for just and amicable settlements in disputes between carriers and their customers.
In practical terms, disputes can be referred to Henriette Chaubon when no solution has been found by the carriers’ customer services departments. Referrals relate primarily to commercial claims (80% of cases in 2016), concerning the fulfilment of contracts of carriage (delays, train cancellations, etc.). They also involve infringements of rail transport police regulations (20% of referrals in 2016).
The scope of the Ombudswoman’s duties has recently been broadened to include disputes brought by Eurostar, Thalys and Corsican Railways passengers. Alongside SNCF Mobilités and national consumer organisations, these three operators were represented at the joint body which unanimously appointed Henriette Chaubon as SNCF Ombudswoman on 28 April. Her appointment is for a renewable term of three years. She may not receive instructions from any parties.
“I would like to emphasize the fact that the Ombudsman or woman is entirely impartial and independent, with a completely objective view of matters”, stressed the new Ombudswoman.
Henriette Chaubon has been a judge at the French Final Court of Appeal since 2013 and is also a member of the conflict resolution committee of the State Energy Regulatory Commission and chair of the State monitoring body on reoffending and desistance.
Previously she was a judge at the Paris Court of Appeal (1999-2005) and then head of the SNCF group legal department (2006-2013).
Backed by a fifteen-strong team, she sees her mission as one of establishing dialogue and mutual trust: “Having been head of the SNCF legal department, I know how much the company is committed to high quality service and customer retention. The position of mediator also provides a good vantage point. Through all the claims we deal with individually, on a case-by-case basis, we can make recommendations which will help all carriers improve their quality of service.”
A high-growth segment
The annual report by the SNCF Ombudsman in 2016 showed the number of complaints had risen by 44% to 8 588, compared with 5 984 in 2015. This increase reflects the large number of claims for refunds or compensation following the strikes in June. It is also a result of the increase in passenger awareness of the existence of the Ombudsman, thanks in part to the dedicated section of the SNCF website (65% of claims were made online in 2016).