How to complain

Done sensibly, complaining helps you tone up your self-esteem while you help companies manage their reputations.


Why you should complain more


  1. Good companies, like good people, welcome the chance to correct mistakes or make amends


  1. You send a powerful message to yourself that says ‘I can do this’. If you are wronged and say nothing, you are telling yourself that you can’t stand up for yourself. Grab every chance to exercise your ‘I can do this’ muscle and you’ll feel better about life in general


  1. You might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome


The basics



If your waiter just brought you tea when you asked for coffee, tell him right away. For faulty goods or services from a small local company, you should be able to talk with a manager. When dealing with a big company, a letter sent to the CEO will be opened by an assistant and passed down to customer relations so save yourself the wait by starting at customer relations.



In the UK you are protected by consumer rights, equalities rights, NHS patients’ rights, and data protection rights, to name but a few. Law makers and regulators have given us these tools to use and the internet means they’re only a click away. Have a look. You might be surprised to learn that, e.g.:


The same consumer rights apply to second hand shops as to shops selling new goods but your rights are not so strong when buying second hand goods from a private seller


The Equality and Human Rights Commission gives an example of a shop offering customers in employment, the option to pay by installments, as something which could be age discrimination as it disadvantages older people who are less likely to be working


The NHS Constitution says that you have the right to use services within maximum waiting times. However, if this is not possible, your local Clinical Commissioning Group must try to offer you suitable alternative treatment providers if you ask it to do so


The Information Commissioner’s Office will help you complain if an organisation has collected your personal information for one reason and is using it for another


Put it in writing

Writing a letter of complaint helps you organise your thoughts.


If you know the thing you are complaining about is covered by a particular chapter and section of, e.g. the Consumer Rights Act, NHS Constitution or similar document, then mention that by name.


Say what you want, whether it is a refund, exchange, compensation, apology or a specific action that you’d like to be taken.


Ask for a response within 28 days and ask to be notified if they will be unable to get back to you by then.


Keep a copy. If a company asks you to fill out a form on its website then type out your letter and copy it into the online form.


There are lots of complaint letter templates on the sites in the resources section at the end of this article.


Respect all round

You don’t have to talk down to someone or to apologise. Keep it polite, resist sarcasm and don’t get personal.


If your complaint is not being dealt with to your satisfaction, then move it up a rank. Some companies will helpfully explain their system for handling complaints.


The resources section below gives information on where you can enlist the services of an ombudsman.




Citizen’s Advice has a huge amount of help online about this, including lots of letter templates


Money Saving Expert has a detailed guide that takes account of recent changes to consumer law in the UK



Image / Askold Romanov

First published in Widows and Widowers magazine, Issue 11


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