The fridge has packed up, your running machine has begun to smoke, and your disk drive is not opening. We all end up with one or two faulty products. Sometimes, it is our own fault and we have to accept it. But other times we have a suspicion that we are not the ones in the wrong.
First, let’s check to see if you have a valid right to complain.
At the end of the day, there is no point complaining if you don’t have cause to do so. There is a general set of rules set out by the Sale of Goods act 1979, which discusses the rules of trading goods. It can be summarized as follows:
- Is the product fit for the purpose it was designed for?
- Does the product come as it was described?
- Is the product of satisfactory quality?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, it is likely you are in a decent position to demand a refund, replacement or repair. There is more criteria covered in the Sale of Goods act, but generally, if it wasn’t your fault and you didn’t know about a problem, you have a case.
What do you want to achieve from the complaint?
One of the strongest things you can do when confronting a business with a complaint is to demand something. This could be a full refund, a partial refund, a replacement, repair, or even compensation above and beyond the price of the goods if you feel you have suffered as a result. Think about what action you will accept from the company as a fix for the problem.
The Complaint Timeline
To make this as simple as possible, a timeline can be created from the information given to us from the Sale of Goods act. Remember that even if the warranty runs out, you are automatically covered by these rules:
< 1 month – if you have had the product for less than a month, you can expect to receive a full refund for most products. In retail terms, up until a month has passed you are still saying “I haven’t accepted the product is right yet.”
< 6 months – Up until the 6-month period has passed, the Sale of Goods act, together with the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumer Regulations 2003 tell us that it is up to the shop/trader to prove that the fault is not theirs. This effectively means that they are guilty until they have proved otherwise. At this point, you can expect to receive a refund or repair.
< 6 years – Yes, there is still a case for goods that have gone awry even up to 6 years. If it is reasonable that the product should last at least 6 years (a £3000 refrigerator!), and YOU can prove that the fault is due to the trader, you are in for fighting chance. However, you may have to settle for a partial refund or repair since the time has been so long from purchase.
Get your weapons ready
Before complaining, you will want to gather your shield and sword by assembling any paperwork, receipts, and proof of purchase you have from the transaction. Take pictures of the flaw and spend some time searching online for information about the problem. There may be a solution available or you can read up on how others have reacted to the same problem (the famous XBOX 360 ‘Red Rings’ still haunt thousands of gamers today). All of this can help you when you begin communicating and complaining to the trader.
You are ready to complain
You will want to start by making contact with the trader to make your complaint (whomever you signed a contract with and gave money to for the product). Call them or send them an email and tell them quite clearly that you “wish to complain” about a product. Explain the circumstance and be sure to get the name of the person you are speaking to. (You don’t want to have to explain yourself over and over again to multiple people).
At this point, the trader has up to 8 weeks to respond to your complaint by law. You can always send reminder emails but try to remain calm…and keep it clean!
Heating it up
Whilst many businesses would have heard customers quote the Sale of Goods act, it is definitely worth bringing up. Ask to speak to a manager or even contact the director of the company if you can find a contact number for them. (Type the business name into LinkedIn, chances are is he/she has an account ;-)
If even complaining to people higher up in the company does not work, you can start to introduce the threat of further action.
“I’m seriously considering calling ‘Watchdog’ if action is not taken soon!”
Ouch!…That will get their attention.
That’s a right hook if ever I saw one! Keep it up with another phone call and give it a more few days, but if nothing happens still, it’s time to get serious.
When it gets serious
When there seems to be nothing more you can do to get the solution you want, it is time to call in reinforcements. Getting in touch with Watchdog or with an Ombudsman Service (for financial services complaints) will give you the support you need throughout your complaining process. Watchdog may also publically shame the trader and be able to warn other possible customers to stay away!
Another course of extreme action is to file in small claims court, which will accept cases up to £3,000.
Hopefully, this has shown you how to complain and get results. For more in depth information on your consumer rights, these websites may be helpful:
- Watchdog Consumer Advice page
- Government Sale of Goods Act 1979
- Taking a dispute to the small claims court (Which? Guide)
- Complaining about digital services (Ofcom)
- Complain about schools and education (Ofsted)
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