The right way to complain

3 December 2009

Knowing the right way to complain is key to a successful outcome, but many people don't understand the steps they need to take to find a resolution.

If you're unhappy with service you have received, the provider concerned should be your first port of call. You must give the company responsible for the problem a chance to investigate the issue before approaching the Financial Ombudsman Service to step in and decide who is right or wrong.

It's in everyone's interests to solve issues swiftly and amicably, and making your complaint correctly in the first place will help.

1. Contact the person you originally dealt with. If they can't help, say you want to take matters further. Ask for details of the official complaints procedure and find out who will be handling your complaint.

2. It's advisable to put your complaint in writing. You can make a complaint by phone, but make sure you ask for the name of the person you speak to and their job title. Keep a note of this, with the date and time of your call – and what was said.

3. Stay calm and polite, however angry or upset you are. This will help you to explain your complaint as clearly and effectively as possible.

4. If you write, put 'complaint' at the top of your letter. And make sure you include important details like your customer number or your policy or account number.

5. Keep things brief and to the point. Set out the facts clearly and in a logical order. Say why you're not happy and what you want the business to do about it.

6. Send copies of any relevant paperwork that you believe backs up your case. File a copy of any letters between you and the business.

7. Don't always expect immediate results – some complaints may take time to investigate properly and resolve.

8. By law, the company has eight weeks to make a decision. If you're unhappy with the decision, or you haven't received a reply in this time, the Ombudsman may be able to step in.

9. The Ombudsman's decision is usually final, but if you disagree with it, then you can complain to the Ombudsman's independent assessor.

10, Visit the Financial Ombudsman Service website or call 0845 080 1800 for more information.

What is the Financial Ombudsman Service?

The Ombudsman is an independent and impartial organisation set up to resolve disputes between consumers and financial services companies. Using evidence from both parties, the ombudsman will weigh up the facts before deciding whether or not to uphold the complaint.

If the Ombudsman finds in your favour it has the power to make the company rectify the matter, but if it believes the business has acted fairly it will explain why. Its decision will carry a lot of weight, but if you still disagree with its decision, you can always take legal action.

When is a complaint not a complaint?

It's easy to get caught out by issues included in the small print of the terms and conditions when we take out products, but if an exclusion or exception is printed in black and white – no matter how small the print is – you can't expect to have your complaint upheld.

For example, if it's stated in your home insurance policy that your shed isn't covered, you don't have a right to complain if your claim for the theft of your lawnmower from the shed is rejected.

Likewise, if you've purchased an investment that is now losing value, you can't simply complain on the grounds that it has lost you money.

The Financial Services Authority is continually putting pressure on financial services providers to make their products more transparent, but if you genuinely believe an issue wasn't made clear, then you are entitled to lodge a complaint.

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