Consumers 'more keen to complain'

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Angry customer complaining to chef in restaurant

Millions of complaints were made last year in Britain by consumers who are keener than ever to take action - but millions more people with a problem do not think grumbling is worth the hassle.

Figures from the first ever Consumer Action Monitor show that there were 38 million complaints about products and services in 2013 - a complaint every 1.2 seconds.

Britons were found to be keener to take action when they have a problem, with 32% saying they are more likely to complain about poor service now than they were a year ago.

The most common sectors for complaints were energy (17%), retail (17%) and internet telecoms (14%), with transport (5%) and holidays (6%) also rubbing consumers up the wrong way.

But the new measure, from Ombudsman Services, also reveals that many who have a problem still take no action, with 40 million problems not pursued.

These disgruntled customers deem the process of complaining to be potentially tiresome, with time and effort identified as the main reasons holding them back.

The legal process also daunts consumers, with only 6% of problems addressed through the small claims courts.

Cynicism about companies adds to this sense of frustration, with 36% of people believing that big businesses are only interested in money and do not care if something goes wrong with a product or service.

Those who do take action are most likely to contact the company responsible first, but many disputes are now escalated to other independent third parties, with ombudsmen an increasingly popular route.

Ombudsman Services reports that energy complaints alone have doubled in the last year.

Millions of consumers are also resorting to more direct action to get their problems dealt with, with social media frequently used as a way to gain companies' attention.

Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: "Given that consumer trust in companies is low, the time is right for businesses to embrace third parties as a means of resolving disputes.

"The research shows that nearly a third of people would be more willing to buy a product or service from a company offering such a service, so transparency clearly has a big role to play in shaping consumer opinion and enhancing brand image."

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice Bureau, said: "People are wasting time and losing money when products they buy or services they take out aren't up to scratch. When a purchase goes wrong, people should be able to rely on businesses to act quickly and fix the problem.

"It is good that people are more likely than ever to take a stand, but we want anyone who has been left out of pocket by shoddy goods or services to feel confident that they can complain about the problem and get things sorted out.

"Citizens Advice helps with one million consumer problems a year and there has also been a dramatic increase in the number of people getting online help about consumer problems. Last year almost three times as many people got consumer advice online through Adviceguide.org.uk, compared to 2012.

"But too often consumers are left struggling to get problems resolved. The Consumer Bill of Rights, which entered Parliament last week, should help to simplify consumer law, making it clear what consumers can expect and stopping unscrupulous companies from shirking their responsibilities."

The figures were obtained from a survey of 2,023 people.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "The Government recognise that consumer law is far too complex and understand it can be daunting.

"This is why we have introduced the new Consumer Rights Bill. It will clearly set out in one place the key consumer rights and what consumers are entitled to if things go wrong. In addition, we will soon be consulting on improving consumer access to dispute resolution services, offering a cheaper and quicker alternative to the courts in the event of an unresolved complaint.

"Anyone who has faced a problem with a product or service and wants some free advice should speak to the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 040506."

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: "Although more people are complaining about poor service, too many are still put off, which is why we've launched our free consumer rights website full of advice.

"Businesses need to improve their complaints procedures but the law also needs to be made simpler and clearer so that consumers who fail to get a satisfactory response to their complaint can take their case to an ombudsman or the small claims court."

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