Virgin Trains has acknowledged that charities might lose out under its new charity rail fares system.
The rail operator announced last month that it was launching a new 20 per cent discount for charity staff making work-related journeys on its trains.
But Virgin has confirmed that the new system, which came into effect on 13 August, started at the same time as another scheme, which allowed charity staff to pay off-peak fares on peak-time trains, ended.
The Directory of Social Change warned that the new discount applied only to advance tickets, which often sell out quickly, leaving charities unable to obtain tickets at the reduced rate.
Jay Kennedy, head of policy at the DSC, said that under the previous system a charity employee would be charged £66 for an open return ticket from Liverpool to London, and this would allow them to use either peak or off-peak services. He said that under the new system the employee would be charged £196, a 20 per cent discount from the full peak-rate fare of £245.
"The changes have been made with zero consultation and little notice for Virgin’s charity customers," he said.
"Many charities have planned their travel budgets for this year based on the previous system and will now have to either curtail their travel, use other transportation or find the extra money for fares."
A Virgin Trains spokesman confirmed that the number of tickets that could be bought with a 20 per cent discount was limited. The reduced tickets were allocated to charity staff on a first-come-first-served basis, he said. He declined to reveal the quota for reduced tickets, saying the information was confidential.
"I accept there might be times when advance tickets have sold out," he said. "But Virgin is the only train service that offers a discount to charity staff."