How to make a Super Complaint
What's a Super Complaint and how do you make one? Rosalind Kent finds out.
There’s nothing like a bit of ‘consumer power’ to take a stand against the evils of big business, but do the public have any clout at all when it comes to complaining about unscrupulous companies?
Most of you will be shouting ‘No!’, but there is a value to complaining, and when it is done properly it can achieve the desired results.
What is a Super Complaint?
Super Complaints were created under the Enterprise Act 2002, and allow for serious complaints that ‘significantly harm the interests of consumers’ to be investigated by a regulator, such as the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). It is a ‘fast track’ system, and the OFT has to publicly respond within 90 days.
Who Can Make Them?
You can’t just pop along to the OFT offices and ask to make a Super Complaint. The complaint has to come from a ‘designated consumer body’. The Secretary of State decides who will become a designated body, and the strict criteria in this PDF must be satisfied. There are currently 8 confirmed consumer groups.
Super Complaints in the News
The Citizens Advice Bureau submitted a Super Complaint in March 2011 regarding scam loans and cold-calling debt management firms. This is currently being investigated by the OFT who will be meeting with a range of consumer organisations, industry trade associations and government bodies to gather information. You can email the OFT if you have a comment about this complaint.
Which? also brought a Super Complaint in March 2011 regarding the unreasonable surcharges imposed when paying by debit or credit card. They are asking the OFT to look at two particular areas: the transparency of the charges – whether customers aware of them before they decide to make the purchase; and the actual cost of the charge – is it proportionate to the costs incurred by the business when processing the payment?
A current list of Super Complaints being dealt with by the OFT can be seen on their website.
What can the OFT do?
When a complaint is received, the OFT have to determine whether the practice is significantly harming the consumer’s interests, and if it is, what steps can be taken to redress the balance. Unfortunately, even if the investigations find that a practice is harmful, the OFT cannot just shut down the problem there and then (that would be far too sensible and useful!) The following options are available:
- making recommendations to the government to change laws and regulations
- referring the matter to the Competition Commission
- encouraging businesses to self-regulate
- running campaigns to raise public awareness.
Unless the OFT decides to lobby for a change to legislation to address the problem, the other options can seem a bit toothless. However, even if the only outcome is that public awareness has been raised, this is still an important part of the consumer protection process.
The Importance of Individual Complaints
People often believe that there is no point in complaining, that they are just one voice and they will not be heard. Here at lovemoney.com, we recently published an article, The Sneaky Online Ticket Rip-Off, that underlines this problem. Trading Standards and the OFT said that, although there is clearly a great deal of public annoyance about online ticket-selling practices, they are actually receiving very few complaints.
It is largely due to people thinking that they just have to accept the situation, but if we do not complain then consumer bodies will not be able to gather enough data to raise any kind of complaint, never mind a Super Complaint!
There is no doubt that Super Complaints can benefit the public, as the recent lengthy court wrangle about unfair bank charges illustrates.
Millions of customers were being charged up to £40 for unauthorised overdrafts, bounced cheques, or failed direct debits, but rose up to complain.
In 2006 the OFT recommended that such charges be set at a maximum of £12.Despite the unfortunate Supreme Court decision in 2009 that the OFT did not have the right to make this decision, people have still been able to make a stand.
Many claimed back thousands as the case was going through the courts, and the banks paid out as they were uncertain about their legal chances of success. There has also been a downshift in the amount that banks can charge when you get into the red, and many do now charge the suggested £12 per transgression. Not a perfect result, but better than a kick in the teeth!
Whether a Super Complaint brings about a change or not, it sheds light on dodgy practices, brings them into the public eye, and educates people on how to avoid them. So, long live the Super Complaint!