Consumer rights

How to Complain Effectively – and Get Results | consumer affairs

When you have defective products or receive poor service, it can be very difficult to get repairs.

Companies pass you on, you don’t know your rights or you are sent from pillar to post. Follow these tips to get what you deserve.

To put in writing

Always put your complaint in writing. Email is easiest, but you can also send it by post.

The risk of being pushed from pillar to post is reduced, and you won’t have to repeat yourself if you need to contact the company again as they will have the contact details on file.

You can continue to rewrite before hitting the send email button to reduce the risk of losing your temper and to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

More importantly, however, you have a record of what was said and when it was said. You may need to go further, such as going to an alternative dispute resolution provider (usually a mediator) or filing a claim in small claims court. Phone calls won’t give you the evidence you’ll need if you pursue these avenues.

If the company made it difficult for you to contact them, get the CEO’s email address; you can do it for free at The GM may not respond personally (although some do), but your message should escalate the issue and get your complaint noticed and addressed.

Put your complaint in writing in an email or letter. Photo: JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images/Tetra Images RF

Be reasonable

Before filing a complaint, check that you are objective and that there are grounds for a formal complaint. Complaining about a seller’s clothes would be subjective and inappropriate. But if the helper threw away and damaged the item you’re picking up, it would be reasonable to complain about it.

As frustrated as you may feel, ranting about customer services won’t help. You are much more likely to succeed by remaining polite and non-threatening.

Know your consumer law

You don’t need to be able to quote a lot of legalese, but demonstrating that you know your rights means you’re less likely to be passed over. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to goods that are free from defects, of satisfactory quality, as described and of a reasonable lifespan. When paying for Services, they should be performed with reasonable skill and care.

Cardboard boxes on the porch floor
If your package is late or lost, contact the retailer to complain, not the courier.
Photography: Farakos/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If your item is found to be in violation of any of the laws within 30 days of purchase, you are entitled to a full refund. After this time, you may receive a replacement or repair. Within the first 30 days, you will need to prove that the problem was present at the point of purchase. But in reality, this is rarely questioned.

You need proof of purchase, which doesn’t have to be a receipt. A bank statement or loyalty card would also serve as proof. If your purchase violates any of the CRA requirements, if you need to return the item, the merchant is responsible for postage costs.

Contrary to popular belief, you are not entitled to a full refund because you changed your mind. However, the law is different for purchases made online. Under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, you have a cooling-off period of 14 days from the date of receipt.

Go to the right place

Your contract is still with the company you paid the money to. So if your package is late or lost, do not contact the courier to complain; contact the dealer instead. For late items, you are entitled to a refund of any additional charges you have paid due to the delay.

If the courier damages anything, including your property, it is always the retailer who is responsible for remedying the situation, so direct your complaints to them.

Give a deadline

Give the company a time frame within which to respond. With an e-mail, five working days is enough because it is not necessary to take into account the time required for your complaint to arrive. For letters you may need to give a bit more time.

The company may need more time to investigate. However, he should get back to you before the deadline to tell you when you can expect to hear about it again.

A good sentence to end your e-mail is: “If I do not receive a satisfactory answer, I will not hesitate to go further. This will include, but is not limited to…” This may include sharing your experience on social media and various forums or engaging with an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider or small claims court.

Someone is writing an email on a laptop
Clearly state in your email or letter what you are looking for. Photography: Tero Vesalainen/Getty

As soon as a deadline has elapsed, if you have not received a response, send a follow-up email outlining the action you will take.

Say what you want

Companies often say that the hardest thing about handling complaints is not knowing what the customer expects of them to fix things. Make it easy for people to understand what you want and how to give it to you by stating what it is in your letter. Is it a full refund? A repair ? Excuses? An explanation for poor service? Either way, be clear in your request. Thinking about this will also help you decide if you are happy with any remedy available to you.

Take the subject further

If you do not receive a satisfactory answer, you have several choices. If the company you are complaining about is a member of a MARC system, you can direct your complaint to the relevant provider. Some schemes are mandatory for certain sectors such as telecoms (Communication Ombudsman or CISAS, the Communication & Internet Services Adjudication Scheme), energy (Energy Ombudsman) and finance (Financial Ombudsman Service).

Non-statutory schemes (so that traders do not have to join) include the Automotive Ombudsman, whose members include car manufacturers, warranty product providers, franchise dealers, independent garages, networks and bodybuilders . The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman manages the Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman and the Railway Ombudsman. All programs are listed on the Chartered Trading Standards Institute website.

You can take your issue to the relevant body eight weeks after your first complaint or once you have received an impasse letter from the company. The company is bound by its decision, you are not.

If the company is not a member of an ADR system or you don’t like the decision, small claims court is an option. To show the company you’re serious about your intentions, send a “pre-action letter/email” stating that you intend to sue them. List the costs, including court fees. Go to the Small Claims Courts websites for England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, complete everything, including payment, take a screenshot and attach it to an email. -email to the general manager.