How to complain to a company

There are many reasons you may wish to complain and if contacting the company directly doesn't help, there are a number of organisations out there that can help you seek redress.

1 Contact the company

There are many reasons you may wish to complain to a company, but whatever your complaint, you should give the company a chance to put things right. 

So, the first step is to complain directly to the company in question. It’s best to put your complaint in writing, either in a letter or by email.

If the company has an official complaints procedure, follow its instructions when submitting your complaint and be sure to escalate your complaint through the company's official complaints process if you wish to take the matter further. 

Be sure to keep a copy of all documents you send to the company, such as bills and contracts, and a note of when you sent them.

Some companies, especially within the personal finance sector, have a set a time limit to resolve most complaints. 

After this point if you're still unhappy with the outcome, you may wish to refer your problem to the relevant ombudsman or use an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) scheme.

Top tips

  • In the first instance, complain to the company
  • If the result is unsatisfactory, escalate your complaint through the official complaints procedure
  • If your complaint is not resolved, you may be able to take your case to an ombudsman
  • The small claims court may be another last resort

2 Use an ADR scheme

Companies within certain sectors are required to offer an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service – for instance, telecommunications companies. 

In some other sectors, there are mediation and arbitration schemes, especially if a company is part of a trade association – for example, travel companies or builders. 

ADR schemes can offer conciliation to help both parties find an amicable solution, as well as provide independent arbitration to adjudicate on a dispute. 

The decision of an arbitrator in arbitration is binding on both parties, and if you’re unhappy with the decision, you will not be able to take the matter to court afterwards, or use an ombudsman service.

3 Refer to an ombudsman

Ombudsmen are a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution. Before you go to an ombudsman, you usually need to have come to a position of deadlock with the company.

A deadlock situation happens when you’ve been through a company’s official complaints procedure, and reached a point where the company believes that it can do nothing more to rectify the situation.

You can ask the company for a letter of deadlock to show you’ve done all you can to resolve the complaint.

Ombudsmen can act as independent referees, looking at both sides of the dispute in order to offer a solution. 

Ombudsmen will only act when service or administrative errors have occurred. You can find out more about when to take a complaint to an ombudsman in our guide

All ombudsmen services have slightly different conditions for timing. 

Some may require the complainant to give the company more time to resolve the issue than others, and there are limits as to how old a complaint can be for an ombudsman to look at it.

The main public or government schemes that may be able to help if you wish to complain about a company are:  

  • The Financial Ombudsman Service – for complaints about banks, investment companies, insurance companies and other financial services companies
  • Ombudsman services: Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) – for complaints about telephone, mobile and broadband companies
  • The Energy Ombudsman – for complaints about an energy company
  • The Consumer Ombudsman – accepts all consumer complaints about retail companies, home maintenance, improvement or installation services, second-hand cars, car repairs and car servicing.

Remember, contacting an ombudsman is a last resort, so do all you can to rectify the situation with the company first.

4 Use the small claims court

The small claims court can be used as a final solution if you feel that a contract has been breached. Before you use the small claims court, you'll need to demonstrate that you have tried all other routes to seek redress. 

The total amount of money you can claim in the small claims court in England and Wales is £10,000, and in Scotland and Northern Ireland it’s £3,000.

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