Making a complaint against private industry

Different industries can have different ways of dealing with complaints. Find out who to complain to about private companies, radio and television channels and advertising, and how to prevent unwanted emails, faxes and telephone calls.

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 but, 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 provides a list of each of these complaint-handling bodies and their contact details.

Complaints about newspapers or magazines

The Press Complaints Commission is an independent body which deals with complaints from members of the public about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines.

The service to the public is free to use and the Commission aims to deal with most complaints in 32 working days.

Complaints about adverts

The Advertising Standards Authority is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media. It applies the Advertising Codes, which are written by the Committees of Advertising Practice.

Its work includes acting on complaints and proactively checking the media to take action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements.

Find out how to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Complaints about the BBC or other television/radio channels

The BBC has its own process set up for dealing with complaints about the radio and television programmes it broadcasts. You will usually need to complain within 12 weeks of the programme transmission or event.

The BBC website has details about the full complaints procedure and the BBC Complaints Code of Practice.

Ofcom is the UK regulator for television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications. It deals with complaints about all broadcasters, including the BBC. You can also use their website to look up the contact details for specific broadcasters, if you would like to complain to them directly.

Reducing spam and email marketing

‘Spam’ is the common name for unrequested and unwanted email.

The responsibility for prohibiting the sending of spam lies with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), an independent public body set up to promote access to official information and protect personal information. The ICO website provides general information about spam and gives advice about the steps you can take to prevent or reduce spam.

There are laws on email marketing which give you rights of privacy about how your personal data is processed and shared by companies.

If you believe that your details were used or shared when they shouldn’t have been, then you can contact the ICO’s complaints service. This gives you the right to ask the Commissioner to exercise enforcement functions.

Find out more about data protection.

Removing yourself from phone and junk mail distribution lists

Preference services have been set up by the direct mail industry to give consumers the option to have their names and home addresses in the UK removed from or added to lists used by the industry. It is free to register with each of them.

The Mailing Preference Service can remove your details from up to 95 per cent of direct mailing lists. However, this will not stop mail that has been sent from overseas, or unaddressed material, or mail addressed to 'The Occupier'.  You can also expect to continue to receive mailings from companies with whom you have done business in the past and you may also receive mailings from small, local companies.

It is unlawful for companies to make unsolicited direct marketing calls to individuals who have indicated that they do not want to receive them. You can either contact the companies directly and ask them not to call you or give your details to a central register.

Royal Mail also has an opt out from their Door to Door Service. You can find out more on the Royal Mail website.

The Bereavement Register

The Bereavement Register will remove the names and addresses of people who have died from databases and mailing files. The service is free.


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