Back to basics in learning how to complain properly
Oct 7, 2016, 14:16 PM
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Trading Standards Officers across the UK deal with thousands and thousands of complaints and enquiries every year on a massive range of subjects. It could be a problem with counterfeit goods, unsafe electrical products, goods that break down too quickly or the inevitable problems with rogue traders.
Trading Standards can’t deal with every complaint that is reported to them via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline which is primarily due to cut backs in funding of 50% or more over the last five years. It is, therefore, even more important for consumers to take the bull by the horns and learn how to complain properly in order to stand the best chance of seeking redress from a business. I would stress, however, that complaints which involve product safety or those which affect vulnerable consumers must always be called in to Trading Standards on the helpline number which is 03454 04 05 06.
As a Trading Standards Officer myself, I experience the same types of consumer problem as anybody else and I don’t get any special treatment just because of the job that I do. I separate my day job from my personal life and a couple of recent consumer problems have meant that I have had to go back to basics and put pen to paper to sort out some issues. The most frustrating issue has been in relation to a mobile phone contract with one of the major providers. The phone broke down due to it being dropped so I decided to cancel the contract early, pay a penalty and take out a new contract. I went to the High Street store of the service provider and everything was arranged – or so I thought. The upshot is that in spite of cancelling the original contract I am currently paying for two contracts and despite telephone calls to contact centres in both the UK and overseas, the issue is simply impossible to resolve.
So here are my top tips for progressing any consumer problems:
- It is really important to put all complaints in writing – and by that I mean a good old-fashioned letter that you post. Dealing with call centres on the phone might seem like the most sensible and quickest thing to do but you have no evidence of what was said or agreed if you need it in the future.
- Ensure that you know exactly whom you are dealing with. Is it a sole trader or a limited company? Knowing the exact details of the legal entity you are dealing with is important because if the worse comes to the worse and you need to resort to the civil courts, it is their name that goes on the paperwork. All contracts for work and receipts and invoices provided by businesses must, by law, give this important information.
- In your letter, set out the nature of your complaint providing all the relevant facts. Avoid sarcasm and abuse (no matter how tempting that may be) and be clear about what you want the business to do in order to resolve the problem. Set out a clear timescale and make sure you are being reasonable.
- Always send the letter by recorded delivery. Not only does this mean that you will be in a position to prove that you have given a business the opportunity to put things right but it also demonstrates to the business that you are organised and will be unlikely to be fobbed off.
- If you still can’t get satisfaction, by all means report the business to Trading Standards by calling 03454 04 05 06. Advice can be given to you on the next steps and you can take some satisfaction in knowing that the business will be on the radar. Consumers are the eyes and ears for Trading Standards and the more complaints there are against particular traders then the greater the likelihood that they will be looked into further.
In the unlikely event that you have a complaint against a TrustMark tradesperson, it is still worth putting it in writing but send a copy to the relevant scheme operator and invoke the free arbitration process that is highly likely to result in a satisfactory resolution. TrustMark are an official Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider, so if you do have a dispute with your tradesperson, you can feel reassured with the knowledge that there is advice and support to help you through.