How to complain and get a result

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
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10 consumer rights you should know

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.


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