FAQ Friday: How do I make a complaint?

May 21, 2021

Every Friday, we share the answer to one of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) from the hundreds of consumers who contact us each week. This week we take a look at making a complaint to a business, with a step-by-step guide on where to start and what you need to know along the way.

Step 1: Know your consumer rights!

Before making a complaint, it’s important that you know what your consumer rights are under the law. If you’re not sure, your first step should be to check out the information on your rights. You can also speak to one of our consumer rights experts via our helpline on (01) 402 5555 if you have a question about your rights.

Remember, if you bought something in a shop, you have no rights under consumer law if the product is not faulty and you simply changed your mind. Some shops may accept returns and give you a refund, exchange or credit note within a certain time period. However, this is a goodwill gesture on the part of the shop – not a legal requirement!

Step 2: Act quickly

Don’t delay in making your complaint and contact the business as soon as possible, otherwise this may affect the outcome of your complaint. For example, if you use the goods for some time, you may only be entitled to a repair or to a partial refund. There may also be a time limit on making certain types of complaints. For example, complaints about a package holiday must be made within 28 days of returning from the holiday. So act quickly! 

Step 3: Know who to contact

Make sure you direct your complaint to the correct person. Start by contacting the person in the company you originally dealt with, or the company’s customer care team (if it has one). A good business will have its own proper internal complaints procedures, and complaints are often resolved using these. Ask to speak to a manager as there is no point in complaining to a person who may have no authority to put things right. Explain your situation and give the business the opportunity to sort the issue. This may solve your problem more quickly and will stand to you if you need to take legal action.

Step 4: Making a complaint

Before making a complaint, think about what the best approach might be, depending on your situation. For example, you may find it more effective to make your complaint face-to-face or over the phone, rather than in a formal letter or email. Or, you may also think about complaining through social media, e.g. through Facebook or Twitter.

When making your complaint, remember to: 

  • Be polite but firm: You may feel angry, but an effective complaint is based on presenting yourself as a reasonable person rather than an unreasonable one 
  • Explain your problem: Keep to the facts and know your rights! 
  • Be clear on how you would like the issue to be resolved: Tell the business what you want them to do to resolve your complaint. Focus on the action you want them to take, rather than on your anger or disappointment 

For example

Make it clear that you are looking for a replacement, a repair, a refund, completion of an unfinished service, or simply an apology. However, it’s important to remember that while these are all options, the law does not specify who chooses the form of redress. Therefore it is up to you to negotiate this with the business!

Step 5: Making a more formal complaint

If your problem has gone on for some time and you are still getting nowhere, you should make a more formal complaint in writing, either in a letter or by email. You can use our sample complaint letters to help you put your complaint in writing. 

Top Tip

Hold on to all information about your complaint, including copies of letters, emails, photographs, invoices, receipts, quotations or contracts. Keep note of what happened, in the sequence that it happened. Include dates of phone calls or other conversations, who you spoke to and what was said.

Always make sure your letter, or email is sent to the right person or department, so ask for the name and address of the most senior appropriate person you can contact. 

Step 6: If you are still getting nowhere

Most complaints are settled without needing to take legal action. But, if you are still not satisfied after making your complaint, you may want to take it further. If your complaint involves an amount up to €2,000, you may be able to take your case to court yourself through the Small Claims procedure, which is designed to be simple and relatively quick. For bigger amounts or for personal injury and certain other claims, you may need to contact a solicitor. 

Some services are covered by the ombudsman or regulators, such as the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman or the Taxi Regulator. Generally, you can’t engage an ombudsman until you’ve first exhausted the complaints procedure for that sector. If you are not sure which regulator, authority or ombudsman is the relevant one, contact your local Citizens Information Centre, which can give you advice on who to contact.

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