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How to complain effectively – and get results

This is a version of the article How to complain effectively – and get results that first appeared on The Guardian website 21 March 2022.

How to complain effectively

When you have faulty goods or receive poor service, it can be really hard to get redress. Companies fob you off, you don’t know your rights or you get sent from pillar to post. Follow these tips to get what you deserve!

Put your complaint in writing

There are a number of reasons why you should write and not phone:

  • The risk of being pushed from pillar to post is reduced when you write. You also won’t have to repeat yourself if you need to contact the company again.
  • You can keep rewriting before clicking the “send” button on that email! So, the risk of losing your temper is reduced and you can make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
  • Most importantly though, you have a record of evidence. You may need to take the matter further such as going to an Alternative Dispute Resolution Provider (usually an Ombudsman) or through the Small Claims Court. Phone calls will not give you this evidence.

Helen on BBC strapline Put it in writing

If the company has made it difficult for you to contact them, get the company CEO’s email contact details for free from The CEO may not respond personally (although some do) but it will escalate the matter and get your complaint noticed and dealt with.

However frustrated you may feel, ranting to customer services will not help. You are far more likely to succeed by being polite and non-threatening.

Be objective and reasonable. Complaining about a sales assistant’s clothing would be subjective and inappropriate. But if the assistant threw down and damaged the item you were collecting, complaining about that would be reasonable.

Know your consumer law

You do not need to know lots of legalese. But demonstrating that you know your rights means that you will be less likely to be fobbed off. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) you are entitled to goods that are:

  • Free from defects
  • Of satisfactory quality
  • Match the description and
  • Last a reasonable length of time.
  • Services must be carried out with reasonable skill and care.

Helen on Morning live strapline step 2 use consumer law

If your item is in breach of any of the CRA within 30 days from purchase you are entitled to a full refund. After this time you can receive a replacement or repair.

Within the first 30 days you will need to prove that the issue was there at the point of purchase. But in reality this is rarely questioned.

You need a proof of purchase which doesn’t have to be a receipt. A bank statement or loyalty card statement would also work as proof.

Contrary to popular belief you are not entitled to a full refund because you changed your mind. However, it is different for purchases bought online. The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 states that when you buy items off premises you have a 14 day cooling-off period from when you receive them. Inform the trader within those 14 days that you will be returning the item and then return them within 14 days.

Check the terms and conditions on the trader’s website about return postage, particularly if you think it is likely that you will be returning items.

However, if your purchase breaches any of the CRA requirements, then the trader is liable for the postage costs.

Your contract is always with the company to which you paid the money. So, if your parcel is late or lost, do not contact the courier, contact the retailer. For late items, you are entitled to a refund of any additional costs you paid.

If the courier damages anything, including your property, it is still the retailer that is responsible for putting the matter right.

Tell the company what you want as redressHelen Dewdney on BBC strapline "tell them what you want (what you really really want)

Companies often say that the most difficult thing about dealing with complaints is not knowing what the customer wants. Make it easier for the company to understand what you want and give it to you. Is it a full refund? A repair? An apology? An explanation for poor service? What they will do in future to avoid problems happening again?

Say what you will do if you don’t get a satisfactory response

A good sentence to end your email with is: “Should I not receive a satisfactory response I will not hesitate in taking the matter further. This will include, but not be limited to…” This could be sharing your experience on social media and various forums, engaging with an ADR provider or the Small Claims Court.

Give a deadlineHelen on Morning Live - strapline step 4 set a deadline

Give the company a timescale by which they have to respond. With email now, five working days is fine. It may be that the company need longer to investigate. However, they should get back to you within this time to tell you when you can expect to hear from them again. As soon as any deadline has passed, follow up informing them of further action you will be taking.

Take the matter further if you don’t get a satisfactory response

If you do not receive a satisfactory response you have a couple of choices.Helen on Moring Live strapline step 5 what you will do next

If the company you are complaining to is a member of an ADR scheme, you can take your complaint to the relevant provider. Some schemes are mandatory for certain sectors such as telecoms (Communication Ombudsman or CISAS), energy (Energy Ombudsman) and finance (Financial Ombudsman Service).

Non-statutory schemes (so traders do not have to be members) include The Motor Ombudsman, whose members include vehicle manufacturers, warranty product providers, franchised dealers, independent garages, networks and bodyshops. The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman along with the Furniture & Home Improvement Ombudsman and Rail Ombudsman provide ADR for the rail, retail and the furniture and home improvement sectors. All providers are listed on the Chartered Trading Standards Institute website.

Take your issue to the ADR provider 8 weeks after you first complained or request a deadlock letter from the company. The company is bound by the decision, you are not.

If the company is not an ADR scheme member or you don’t like the decision, then the Small Claims Court is an option. To show the company you mean business, send a “letter/email before action” outlining that you intend to take them to court. List the costs, including the court fees. Go to the Small Claims Court website for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland fill out everything, right up to payment, take a screenshot and attach it to a email to the CEO.

Following these tips should ensure you get the redress to which you are entitled!

The Complaining Cow resources for helping you complain effectively

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By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

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