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Consumer Rights.

How to complain to a company

There are many reasons you may wish to complain - this step-by-step guide shows you how to do it, plus how to seek redress if contacting the company directly doesn't help.
Which?Editorial team

1 Contact the company

There are many reasons why you may wish to complain to a company. 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 and be sure to escalate your complaint through the company's official 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 help both parties to find an amicable solution, as well as provide independent arbitration to adjudicate on a dispute. 

The decision of an arbitrator is binding on both parties. 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 ADR. Before you go to an ombudsman, you usually need to have reached a position of deadlock with the company.

This happens when you’ve been through a company’s official complaints procedure, and come to 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. 

They will act only 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 regarding timing. 

Some may require you 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
  • 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

You can use the small claims court as a final solution if you feel that a company has breached its contract. 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, in Scotland it's £5,000 and Northern Ireland it's £3,000.