Writing an effective complaint
This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales
In most cases, the goods, services or digital content supplied by a trader will be satisfactory, but sometimes things go wrong and you will want to make a complaint.
You can complain in person or by telephone but make sure that you follow this up with an email or letter to confirm the details of your complaint.
You can also schedule a call from the trader to you, use an online contact form, web chat or social media as a way to report a complaint.
To achieve the best possible outcome, consider the following points when contacting the trader:
- for most contracts but not all, the trader must give you certain important information, which includes after-sales information and details of any complaints-handling policy they may have. Check this before you complain
- if the trader does not provide after-sales information or details of a complaints-handling policy, you need to find out who and where to complain to. Check the trader's website, social media, the back of the receipt, the order form or the delivery note for details
- depending on how a trader deals with complaints, you may be able to contact an individual who has authority to deal with your complaint (it may be advisable to contact the trader and ask for the senior manager's name and job title). Check to make sure you are using the correct address. If you write directly to a branch you can also send a copy of your letter or email to the head office
- most large traders are unlikely to have a named individual to complain to; they may have a generic email address or contact form for customer complaints
- keep a copy of your letter / email
- if you receive an email acknowledgement of your complaint, keep it
- use the trader's social media accounts to report a complaint, but take care about the information you disclose if your post is visible to others
- check online complaint forums for more information before you contact the trader. Other people may have the same problem as you
- quote relevant order numbers, reference numbers and invoice numbers to make it easier for the trader to connect your complaint to the transaction
- be polite, specific and stick to the point. Genuine points of concern may get lost in a long complaint
- quote dates or events and all the relevant circumstances surrounding your complaint
- if you send a handwritten letter, ensure it is legible. Seek help if necessary
- ensure as best you can that the problem is not 'user error'
- know what your rights are. For example, are you returning goods within 30 days for a refund, do you have extra protection because you paid by card or on finance, do you have a guarantee or warranty? It may be useful to inform the trader that you have sought legal advice
- if possible, quote the law that you are making your claim under and make it clear what you are legally entitled to
- be clear about what you want to achieve and what you want the trader to do to resolve your complaint
- you may need to provide evidence to the trader to back up your complaint, such as copies of your documents (receipt, emails and letters) as well as anything else you think will prove your case, such as photographs and videos
- do not send copies of bank / credit card statements due to the risk of identity theft
- act quickly as a delay can sometimes affect what you are entitled to
- give a reasonable time for the trader to respond to you - for example, 14 days
- be persistent and complain again if you do not get a response to your first one
- copies of letters, emails, screen shots from your device and other documents are useful evidence if you refer your complaint to a trade association, regulatory body, use any other form of alternative dispute resolution or if you take action in court
- if at any stage you need to check your legal rights, contact the Citizens Advice consumer service
If you are unsure about what to write, then use the following templates (attached in Word format). They are written in a letter format but can easily be adapted to use for other communication methods. Where you are given a choice of phrase or words to use, make sure you use the correct ones.
If you want to know what your legal rights are and which remedies you are entitled to, the other consumer guides on this website provide detailed information. Some of them are referred to explicitly in the 'top tips' section of the templates.
Goods: price reduction or final right to reject
Goods: repair or replacement
Services: carried out within a reasonable time
Services: legally binding information
Services: price reduction
Services: reasonable price to be paid
Services: repeat performance
Digital content: damage caused to device or other digital content
Digital content: price reduction
Digital content: right to supply (refund)
Digital content: repair or replacement
Off-premises sale: cancellation
Returning goods bought at a distance
Right to redress: right to damages
Right to redress: right to a discount
Right to redress: unwinding the contract
Building work repairs
Building work delays
Repairs to faulty double glazing
Flights: compensation for a delayed flight
Flights: compensation for a cancelled flight
Flights: compensation for denied boarding
Flights: reimbursement for being downgraded
Package holiday complaint
Refund for faulty car
Repairs to faulty car
Unsatisfactory car repairs
Holding a finance company equally liable in a dispute with a trader
Asking a trader to consider a joint expert report
Letter before court action
Last reviewed / updated: February 2022
- There is no key legislation for this guide
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
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