How to exercise your consumer rights

It was World Consumer Rights Day yesterday – did you notice any improvements in service or value for money? No, us neither.

It feels like we put up with so much rubbish in this country, from poor quality restaurant meals to appalling customer service from the banks, and it's about time we started standing up for ourselves. Here's how.

To be honest, World Consumer Rights Day passed us and much of the media by yesterday. Yet it's focus is on making financial services fairer for European consumers, explains European Commission internal market commissioner Michel Barnier: "Financial markets should be at the service of citizens, not the other way around. Europe must make financial services more fair and transparent for consumers everywhere in Europe.

"This means getting the information you need to make the right decision when taking out a mortgage, making it easy to transfer money from your account to another EU country or getting your money back from your current account if your banks fails."

It's quite a British trait to grumble to ourselves and anyone who'll listen about poor service or value for money, yet not to voice our concerns to the company involved. If we want anything to change though, it's crucial to speak out, so here's our quick guide on how to complain effectively.

Go direct
The business or company you think is responsible for a problem should have the chance to look into any complaint before you take it higher to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The FOS says many complaints are caused by misunderstandings that the business can quickly sort out, once you explain the problem.
  • Identify the problem Before you make a complaint, be clear in your own mind what you think the problem is. Perhaps make notes and consider how would like the financial business to put things right.
  • Keep calm It's easy to get angry, especially where your finances are concerned, but maintaining a polite and civil persona is key to getting yourself heard. You will get your points across much more effectively if you're not flustered or rude. FOS advises to put yourself in the shoes of the person at the end of the phone, who you want to help you. Would you like someone shouting at you?
  • Write or phone? If you complain by phone, make sure you keep a note of when you called and the name of the person you spoke to. If you write, put "complaint" clearly at the top of your letter and keep all correspondence.
  • Keep it brief It is always best to keep things short and to the point. Say simply and clearly what you are not happy with and what you want the business to do to resolve the problem.
  • Taking things further It is a legal requirement for businesses to have a complaints procedure that it has to follow. If you are not able to resolve matters at this stage, the Financial Ombudsman Service may be able to help.
The ombudsman
If you're not happy with the response from the company, you can take the issue to the ombudsman service. Almost all businesses selling, marketing or advising on financial products in the UK are now covered by the ombudsman.

In order for the ombudsman to look into your complaint, you'll need to fill in a complaint form, which can be done over the phone - on 0300 123 9 123 - or you can download it from the website.

It is the job of the FOS to determine who is right or wrong, and if they believe the business has treated you fairly they will explain why. But if it finds that you have been treated unfairly, and you've lost out as a result, it has legal authority to make the company put things right for you.

The maximum the ombudsman can reward is £100,000, although most complaints involve
considerably smaller sums. If you're not happy with the FOS decision, you can take your complain to court, which is a more costly and formal option.

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