No matter how much of a careful shopper you are, there are still times when things go wrong. You're going to have to complain, but how do you go about it? Here are some guidelines for making an effective complaint.
Know your rights
Step one is to know your rights. If your complaint is about faulty goods or services then you will probably be able to use the Consumer Guarantees Act. If you have been misled or deceived by advertising or claims made by a trader or professional, then the Fair Trading Act is likely to be your source of legal protection
To help you get a clear idea of what happened and what you want done about it, write down all the particulars and get together any documents you have that relate to the problem.
- an accurate description of the article, including if necessary, brand, model, serial number, quality, grade or size
- the price paid
- the date and place of purchase
- who you dealt with, if you know or can remember their name
- the nature of the complaint - what went wrong or what the problem is; and what you want done about it.
Documents that may help your case include:
- sales docket
- hire purchase agreement or credit contract
- layby agreement
- cheque butt or bank statements if the dispute is over a payment or account
You should approach the seller or trader as soon as possible after discovering a reason for complaint.
Remember though, that you can't expect to return an item simply because you've changed your mind, or the person you bought it for doesn't like it. Only if there's something wrong with the way it works, or it's different from what you were led to expect from the advertising, packaging or sale patter, have you the right to get the problem fixed up.
Try not to use the item you are having trouble with while your dispute is being looked into.
Start by talking to the trader or professional, either face-to-face, over the telephone, or write to them (for simple, effective letters of complaint see Letters That Get Results).
If in person, begin by talking with the counter assistant. Many traders now have a policy of accepting complaints without debate, so you may get satisfaction immediately. If not, ask to speak to someone in charge - you want to complain to the person who has the authority to put things right.
Make sure you:
- keep calm
- are polite
- remember to state all the facts and say what you want done
- avoid threats
- accept a reasonable solution
We suggest you refer to our Letters That Get Results.
If you are writing your own letter, make sure you:
- State clearly what your problem is and what you would like done about it.
- Make sure the firm knows who is writing to them and how they can get hold of you.
- Send copies of dockets, receipts, or any documents that will help. Don't send originals.
- Set out your letter in a logical way.
- Choose your words carefully - be polite.
- Ask for a reply by a certain date - say, 2 weeks.
Keep records of all dealings you have. If you have complained and received no satisfaction, you can take the matter further and you will need records of what has gone on. Depending on your situation, you have several options.
Sometimes traders try to ignore you to see if you'll stop complaining. If you really want a result don't let silence deter you. Keep contacting the trader until you get an answer.
Taking it further
If you believe an organisation has broken the Fair Trading Act, you can contact the Commerce Commission, which enforces the act. Sometimes the commission will take legal action against an organisation. It is useful for the commission to know about an offending trader in case others make similar complaints.
You may get further by taking the matter to a Disputes Tribunal.
If you feel your rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act have been infringed, you can approach your local Citizens Advice Bureau for advice.
If you are a member of Consumer, you can approach us for advice.
Several industries have established independent agencies to handle consumer complaints, most notably the Banking Ombudsman, the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner, the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution and the Insurance and Savings Ombudsman schemes. These agencies are independent, their decisions are binding on the company concerned and they are controlled by boards that include consumer representatives.
Another avenue for complaint is the media - this can achieve very fast results, but remember that they'll be keen to get both sides of the story and there's no guarantee they'll adopt a perspective you're happy with.