Consumer complaints: rights, refunds and compensation ⁠— what you need to know

Always follow up your verbal complaint with one in writing. Photo: Getty

We can be a shy bunch, the British, preferring to put up with poor service or a dodgy product than make a fuss or cause a scene. Stiff upper lip and all that.

Research by the Financial Conduct Authority found that around 15 million Britons do not have their consumer problems addressed, such as securing a refund or product replacement, because they avoid making complaints.

But it does not need to be that way. Here’s why — and how to make a complaint.

Why you should complain more often

It’s your right to do so

When you’re a consumer paying for a product or a service, it’s within your rights to complain when what you’re purchasing is not up to standard. So you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or awkward even if the vendor is being difficult.

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It gives them a chance to put it right

Most vendors or manufacturers will feel bad if what they’re selling wasn’t up to scratch so will want to put it right in some way to keep you as a customer or turn a potential bad review into a good one. They can’t do that unless you let them know something is wrong.

You might get compensation

In putting it right, the company might give you a refund, or a voucher, a fresh product, or something else that compensates you for the problem to demonstrate their excellent customer service. You could actually walk away from a complaint better off than before.

Improves products and services

No diligent business wants to receive complaints from their customers. Complaining alerts businesses to problems and creates an incentive for them to maintain high standards, helping to improve the quality of goods and services.

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How to complain

Know your rights

You have rights as a consumer whenever you purchase a good or service. Those rights sometimes depend on what exactly it is you’re consuming. But as a general rule, whatever you’re paying for should be as described. There are lots of great guides to your rights around, including from the Citizens Advice Bureau and Which?. Before you complain, know your rights so you’re sure what you’re entitled to.

Have a good, clear reason

It’s important when complaining that you have a solid basis for doing so. That begins with knowing your rights, which equips you to articulate why your complaint is justified. Explain clearly and in detail what is wrong so everything is on the table from the start. This is good as a reference point for the future, helps your complaint to be resolved quicker, and makes it harder for them to delay any resolution by claiming they couldn’t understand what was wrong.

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Complain as early as possible

As soon as you are aware of a problem, you should complain. If you wait, you might no longer be entitled to a refund or suchlike because there may be a time limit on your consumer rights. Raising a problem soon after purchase also makes it harder for a vendor to claim you were the cause of a problem or defect.

Be polite but firm

While you are protected by your rights, a little politeness never hurts. People are much more responsive to complaints when they are made politely and it could smooth the whole process if you win them over from the start. That said, be firm and assert your rights. Politeness does not mean weakness. Don’t allow your rights to be compromised. You should be clear that you know what you are entitled to and that the good or service does not meet the required standard.

If all else fails, go to a higher authority

Still not getting what you’re owed after going through the complaints procedure? There are lots of different alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes across various sectors that mediate between consumers and companies which would pick up your case. There are also official ombudsmen offering a similar service across different sectors. You could also go through the small claims court as a last resort.