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Britain – a nation of complainers

Britain – a nation of complainers

But are they effective in their complaints?

This week’s figures, compiled by Ombudsman Services [1], show that Britons made 66 million complaints last year, which works out at more than one grumble for every adult in the UK. This figure has risen from the previous year. [2]

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, consumer blogger and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! warns of treating the figures with caution.

The figures are taken from a survey of only 2,355 of people and scaled up. It doesn’t show how effective these complaints are. Dewdney comments “It is quite possible that more Britons are moaning more about more things but there is little information on whether these are complaints that are effective and gaining redress or whether it is just people having a rant and a moan.”

So are Britons complaining more? Dewdney doesn’t think so, as she sees the same issues cropping up as they did five years ago. “People are still unsure of their legal rights and so easily get fobbed off”, she explains. “Many companies will try and wriggle out of providing a full refund when it is due, for example. Also people give up when given the run around by companies, or don’t know how to complain effectively and so fail in getting refunds and redress.”

How about social media? This offers a new way for consumers to seek justice, with the proportion of complaints raised on sites like Facebook and Twitter increasing to 36 per cent, up five per cent from a year ago – more than 18 million complaints in total. This may account for the rise in complaints but are they actually complaints gaining redress or are they just rants?

When customer services doesn’t work, people have a number of choices as to where to go next, whether it’s to the CEO, to an ombudsman or even to the small claims court.

Marcus Williamson, editor of the consumer website which provides contact details for many CEOs, recommends escalating issues to the CEO as a next step, when necessary. He says “Sometimes it takes an email to the top man or woman to get issues moving. It is the best way to get attention for your issue, if you’re being ignored by the usual channels.”

So, how well do you know your legal rights and how to complain effectively?

1) Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to goods that are of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, match the description and last a reasonable length of time. If items you purchase are in breach of this Act you are entitled to a full refund (up to 30 days from purchase) repair or replacement.

2) Under the same Act you are entitled to services to be carried out with reasonable skill and care.

3) When complaining, put it in writing so that you have the evidence should you need to take the matter further. If you do ‘phone make sure you take the name of the person, any reference number and follow up any agreements made verbally with an email.

4) Be objective, polite and succinct. Bullet point issues if it is a long complaint.

5) State what you want to happen as an outcome to your complaint, such as explanation, apology, refund etc.

6) Give a deadline by which you expect to receive a response and what you will do if you don’t receive a satisfactory one, such as contacting a relevant ombudsman, Small Claims Court etc.

7) If it is a serious complaint, or you are not satisfied with customer services, go to the CEO. The CEO is unlikely to respond personally (although some will) but the complaint will go to a more senior team than customer services.




[1] Link to Ombudsman Services survey:

[2] Last year’s figure was 38 million complaints.


ADR Ombudsman Press releases Topical

The ADR Directive and Ombudsman Omnishambles

Update to this story Ombudsman Omnishambles: New report exposes serious failings in ombudsman approval and oversight

Further update Landing in court with Ryanair provides links to more reports, articles in the FT  and Which? regarding the mess.

New privatised system of Alternative Dispute Resolution threatens consumer complaints chaos – but even its own implementation has now been delayed…

The ADR Directive

A new EU-mandated system of private ombudsmen which was due to come into force today, 9 July 2015, will not now be implemented 1 October 2015. Private companies will then be handling consumer complaints in sectors including retail, aviation, furniture and property.

Under the new system companies would be obliged to point customers to private complaints-handling companies but would not be bound by their decisions.

Issues in ADR approval and monitoring

Apart from the delay in implementation, there are many problems with the system as it is proposed.

For example:

  • There are two ombudsmen for the retail sector: One run by the company The Retail Ombudsman, the other by Ombudsman Services. There are also three ombudsmen for the property sector. This will lead to considerable confusion for the public. [1]
  • There are no criminal records checks for ombudsmen employees or directors: The company calling itself The Retail Ombudsman employs a convicted criminal as its communications director. [2]
  • One private company already running another ombudsman service pre-launched an Aviation Ombudsman without obtaining CAA permission. [3]
  • The CAA had previously confirmed that it would be winding down its own complaints scheme in favour of a privatised operation from 1 September 2015 (depending on certain conditions). [4]
  • There is no “ombudsman of ombudsmen” – The body responsible setting up Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes, the Trading Standards Institute (TSI), has no consumer complaints system.
  • The chairman of the trade body The Ombudsman Association, Lewis Shand Smith, is also the CEO of one of the ombudsman companies. [5]
  • When the law eventually comes into force from 1 October 2015, traders will be obliged to tell consumers where to go for ADR but are not obliged to use ADR services.
  • Update 12/10/15 Ombudsman services have set up a Consumer Ombudsman for “everything else” increasing the likelihood of more doubling up.

Supermarket comments on The Retail Ombudsman

Asked about the retail ombudsman via Twitter in May this year, Sainsbury’s social media staff replied candidly.

Further details of these issues are available on request.

About the authors

Marcus Williamson, Editor of the consumer information website, says “These new companies are in this for the money and will be charging the companies whose customers are complaining. Those costs will inevitably be passed onto consumers through higher prices of products and services.”

More about

Helen Dewdney, Consumer Champion and author of the book “How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!”, says:  “This ongoing Ombudsman omnishambles is helping no-one and will only result in confusion for consumers. If an ADR regime is to work well for consumers it needs a single ombudsman per sector, a clear code of practice and independent oversight.”

More about Helen Dewdney: //


[1] For example: and
Neville Thurlbeck, former News of the World chief reporter, was jailed for 6 months in July 2014 for phone hacking. The Trading Standards Institute has confirmed that criminal record checks are not necessary for ombudsman directors or staff.
[3] Screenshot available on request

Radio 4 appearance discussing ombudsmen:

Ombudsman Omnishambles discussed on You and Yours Radio 4


How approval bodies are failing to properly approve and monitor Alternative Dispute Resolution -