How to complain to a business or trader

If you feel you were treated unfairly after paying for a product or service, you should consider making a complaint. Making a complaint might help you get your money back or receive alternative goods or services.

Speak to the manager

You should always speak directly to the trader or company first.

Gather any receipts or order forms and check if there is any information on the trader or company’s policy on returns or complaints. Quite often you will find a link to their website where you can get more information.

Try and find out who is the best person to speak to. There may be a customer service manager, a refunds desk or in the case of a small business or trader you could ask to speak to the owner. For online retailers you’ll usually find a contacts form on the website’s help section.

Making a complaint can be intimidating, so it’s helpful to write down a couple of points and make sure you have any evidence, like receipts or correspondence, to hand. Ask for the name of the person you are speaking to and write down the date and time of the conversation and any key points.

Put your complaint in writing

If after speaking to the company or trader directly, you’re still not satisfied with their response you can make an official complaint in writing. You can send a written complaint by post or email.

Before you write

You should make sure that you:

  • have a valid complaint
  • have the right name and address of the trader or the credit company
  • have copies of any documents, receipts, guarantees or reports which you may need to send with your letter
  • speak to Consumerline

You can contact Consumerline online to ask for advice. They can give you information on your rights as a consumer and how best to take your complaint forward.

When you write

When writing a letter or email of complaint, remember to:

  • write as soon as you can after discovering the problem
  • quote your reference or account number if you have one
  • explain that you have a valid complaint by referring to the law which gives you protection when you buy, for example the Consumer Rights Act, Sale of Goods Act, Supply of Goods and Services Act, Consumer Credit Act
  • keep a copy of your letter
  • send copies of original documents
  • send your letter by recorded delivery

Sample complaint letters

You can download sample letters for various complaints at the links below. Fill in your information and edit the letter to include details of your complaint. You can then print a copy for posting or attach a copy to an email.

If you don’t get a reply

If you don’t get a reply to your letter after a reasonable time, for example within 14 days, you should write again and include a copy of your original letter.

If you still don’t get a reply after your second letter then speak to Consumerline. If suitable they can pass your complaint on to Trading Standards to investigate.

Industry ombudsman schemes

Many industries have their own ombudsman scheme or other complaint-handling body. These provide an independent and impartial means of resolving disputes outside the courts.

Each ombudsman scheme operates under slightly different rules. However, in general, an ombudsman will not consider a complaint unless the organisation concerned has first been given a reasonable opportunity to deal with it.

The British and Irish Ombudsman Association (BIOA) provides a list of each of these complaint-handling bodies and their contact details.

Report illegal street trading

Illegal street trading may involve trading in a street or public place without a licence. If you have been sold counterfeit or faulty goods by an Illegal street trader you should report them to your local council.

The following link will take you to nidirect's list of local councils in Northern Ireland. You can then go to your local council's website where you can find out more.

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