How to Complain

If you need to make a complaint, here's some advice along with some sample letters you can use


We've all had problems with goods and services, and needed to make a complaint, whether it's a faulty toaster, unfinished building work or bad service in a restaurant. Traders generally want to maintain a good relationship with their customers, and most will be happy to rectify the problem. But occasionally they can be reluctant, and that's when you need to know how to complain, and who to complain to.

Step 1: Resolving the issue informally

If you have a complaint, you should first try to settle it informally. Let the trader know why you're not happy, and how you would like the problem to be resolved. So, for example, if you've been sold a faulty item return it to the store and ask for a refund or replacement. If you have problems with a service, such as building work, it can be useful to begin collecting evidence such as photographs, and to keep a diary of events.

Quite often you may feel that the company has let you down, and you may become angry or upset. Try not to let this affect the way you deal with the company. Focus on resolving the issue.

Step 2: Escalate the complaint

Your first point of contact may not have the authority or the training to deal with the complaint, so if you're not satisfied you should ask to speak to someone more senior. This could be a manager or, if the company has multiple outlets, a customer service contact at the company's head office. The more senior the member of staff, the more likely they are to be in a position to resolve your issue.

Step 3: Make a Formal Complaint

If an informal approach has failed, the next step is to put your complaint in writing. Many companies will have a complaints procedure, which will indicate who to write to and what you can expect. Try to put as much detail into your letter, including dates, times and copies of any paperwork you may have. Be clear about what the problem is and how you would like it to be resolved. It's also useful to set a time limit for a response. If you end your letter by saying that you 'look forward to a reply within 14 days', it will gently remind the company that you are expecting the complaint to be dealt with promptly.

Again, you may be angry and upset, and it is often useful to mention this in your letter. You want to let the company know the impact that the problem has had on you, but you should be careful to maintain a professional tone.

Step 4: Further Options

If, after using the company complaints procedure, you are still unhappy, there are a number of options you can consider, depending on the circumstances.

Complain to a Trade Association

Check the company's letters, brochures or websites for details of any professional body to which the company belongs. Such organisations have their own codes of practice and complaints procedures which you can use.

This list of Trade Associations may be useful.

Complain to an Ombudsman

Many industries are regulated and give you the opportunity to complain to an ombudsman. For example, if you have an issue with an energy supplier, and a complaint to the supplier has been unsuccessful, you have an opportunity to complain to the Energy Ombudsman

Complain to Citizens Advice Consumer Service (CACS)

CACS can give advice on your rights and responsibilities, and on how to resolve complaints. If a trader is acting against the law, they can forward the case to Derbyshire Trading Standards, who may be able to take further action. Alternatively, you can visit your local CAB.

Contact CACS on 03454 04 05 06

Trusted Traders

If the trader is on DCC's register of Trusted Traders, you can provide feedback. Trading Standards will follow up all negative feedback and contact the trader to discuss the situation. They may be able to help you reach an acceptable resolution.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

You may want to use an Alternative Dispute Resolution service (you would normally have to consider this option before taking court action). Depending on the scheme, they will offer mediation, conciliation, adjudication or arbitration. The trader may already recognise an ADR scheme, but you can find details of other schemes here: www.civilmediation.justice.gov.uk

Take Action in Court

You may be able to take action in a civil court, but there are a number of things to consider if you want to take this route. Do you have a strong enough case? Can you afford the costs? There will be court fees and solicitors' fees, should you decide to use their services. And even if you win your case, will the trader be willing or able to pay? You may have to take further action to enforce the judgement. It's worthwhile talking over the pros and cons with an experienced CAB adviser before making this decision.

Sample Letters (Goods/Services)