How to complain and get a result

You don’t have to accept rubbish goods and shoddy services: 10 steps to make your complaints count

How to complain

It's not terribly British to complain. We may mention to our friends that our dinner is stone cold, or there's a snail in the salad, but when someone comes over to ask if everything is fine, we'll mutter politely that it's all lovely. But while it's tempting to try to avoid a scene, there are times when we have no other option, and need to make our feelings known. On those occasions, it helps to know the best approach.

See also: Your rights if a parcel arrives broken, late or damaged

See also: Ombudsman reports 'striking' rise in consumer complaints about credit


There are ten secrets to an effective complaint.

1. Do the background research
You need to be clear about what you expected, and how it has fallen short. If you have a contract, or any correspondence, it's worth digging all the paperwork out and making sure that your complaint is valid.

2. Know your rights
Check the rights you are using to claim a refund or a repair. As a general rule things should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose, and last a reasonable length of time. Services, meanwhile, should be done with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time and at a reasonable price. Ask yourself where the item fell short of these promises.

3. Work out what you want to achieve
Do you want a replacement, a refund or to cancel your contract? Are you just after an apology, or do you want compensation? Whatever you are after, it's key to present this from the outset. If you complain and then leave it up to them to work out what to offer you, there's no knowing what they'll come up with. If you present them with a complaint, and a solution, it will make it easier for them to agree.... as long as your request is fair and reasonable.

4. Keep it simple
It's always worth starting by going back to the shop to speak to someone, or making a phone call customer services. This is the most straightforward approach, and if you have a fairly standard complaint, and explain calmly and clearly your rights and your expectations, you should see the issue resolved. It's worth doing this as soon as possible, because the longer you leave it, the fewer rights you have.

5. Check the complaints procedure
The company may well only accept complaints if you follow their strict instructions, so it will save time if you check their website for details of any complaints process.

6. Keep a note of all contact
If the problem isn't sorted swiftly in the first instance, make a note of the contact, and all subsequent times you call or write. It will help to have a paper trail if you end up needing to take things further.

7. Escalate the complaint
Take the complaint to their manager, or to the customer services manager. In some cases you will be able to do this on the phone. Alternatively you may need to write. Make sure you enclose enough details for them to find you on their systems - including an account numbers or order reference numbers.

It's also worth sending copies of documents -such as photos of the problem or copies of an agreement. Include a deadline - 14 days is fair - for them to respond. Then make sure you send the letter by recorded or special delivery, so you have proof they received it.

8. Take it to an ombudsman
If you don't get the response you were expecting, check whether there is an ombudsman, or whether they are a member of a trade body with an independent disputes body. You will need to include all the information all over again - but send details of your complaint, and they will consider it from an independent perspective.

9. Be prepared to take it further
If there is no ombudsman or trade body, you may need to take the company to the small claims court. This is not as daunting as it sounds. You don't need to employ a lawyer, and the court will help guide you through the process. But you will need to pay a fee, and it does take time and effort to see a case through, so this is only worthwhile if the problem and the money involved are reasonably significant.

10. Stay calm
Especially in the early stages, you want them to actively want to help you. If you lose your temper, you may well alienate someone who was trying to help. However frustrating the situation is, try to hold your temper and stay calm.

10 consumer rights you should know

10 consumer rights you should know