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Saturday, October 1, 2022

How to complain effectively – and get results | Consumer affairs

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 it 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 because it will have the details on record.

You can keep rewriting before clicking the send button on an 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 what has been said and when it was said. You may need to take the matter further, for instance, by going to an alternative dispute resolution provider (usually an ombudsman) or making a claim through the small claims court. Phone calls will not give you the evidence you will need if you pursue these avenues.

If the company has made it difficult for you to contact it, get the email address of the chief executive; you can do this for free at ceoemail.com. The chief executive may not respond personally (although some do) but your message should escalate the matter and get your complaint noticed and dealt with.

Someone writes letter
Put your complaint in writing in an email or letter. Photograph: JGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Be reasonable

Before you raise a complaint, check that you are being objective and that there are grounds for a formal complaint. 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.

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

Know your consumer law

You do not need to be able to quote lots of legalese but demonstrating that you know your rights means you are less likely to be fobbed off. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you are entitled to goods that are free from defects, of satisfactory quality, match the description and last a reasonable length of time. When you are paying for services, they must be carried out with reasonable skill and care.

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

If your item turns out to be in breach of any of the act 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 the problem 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 or loyalty card statement would also work as proof. If your purchase breaches any of the CRA requirements, then if you have to send back the item the trader is liable for the 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 bought online. Under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, you have a 14-day cooling-off period from when you receive them.

Go to the right place

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 to complain; contact the retailer instead. For late items, you are entitled to a refund of any extra costs you paid as a result of the lateness.

If the courier damages anything, including your property, it is still the retailer who is responsible for putting the matter right, so address your complaints to it.

Give a deadline

Give the company a timescale by which it has to respond. With an email, five working days is fine as there is no need to factor in time for your complaint to arrive. For letters, you may need to give a little longer.

It may be that the company needs longer to investigate. However, it should get back to you before the deadline to tell you when you can expect to hear from it again.

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 or engaging with an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provider or the small claims court.

Someone writes an email on a laptop
State clearly in your email or letter what it is you are looking for. Photograph: Tero Vesalainen/Getty

As soon as any deadline has passed, if you have not had a response send a follow-up email outlining further action you will be taking.

Say what you want

Companies often say that the most difficult thing about dealing with complaints is not knowing what the customer wants them to do to put things right. 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? An apology? An explanation for poor service? Whatever it is, be clear in your request. Thinking about this will also help you to decide whether you are satisfied with any remedy you are offered.

Take the matter further

If you do not receive a satisfactory response you have a couple of choices. 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, the Communication & Internet Services Adjudication Scheme), energy (Energy Ombudsman) and finance (Financial Ombudsman Service).

Non-statutory schemes (so traders do not have to join) include the Motor Ombudsman, whose members include vehicle manufacturers, warranty product providers, franchised dealers, independent garages, networks and bodyshops. The Dispute Resolution Ombudsman runs the Furniture & Home Improvement Ombudsman and the Rail Ombudsman. All the schemes are listed on the website of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute.

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

If the company is not a member of an ADR scheme or you don’t like the decision, then the small claims court is an option. To show the company you are serious in your intention, send a “letter/email before action” outlining that you intend to take it to court. List the costs, including the court fees. Go to the small claims court websites for England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, fill out everything, right up to payment, take a screenshot and attach it to an email to the chief executive.

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