How to complain and get your way

Updated on 16 July 2014

Whoever you want to complain to, make sure you follow these tips.

Complain to your bank

Find out about your bank’s complaint procedure

Under FSA rules all banks are required to have an appropriate complaints procedure. Ask to see a copy so you understand exactly how your complaint will be handled.   

Act now

Make your complaint as soon as things go wrong. The longer you leave it the harder it will be to remember all the relevant details you’ll need to strengthen your case. Don’t forget, certain financial complaints have time limits so don’t miss the opportunity to put in your claim for redress.

Complain to the right person

Try to make your complaint to the person you originally dealt with. If that’s not possible, contact your bank and ask for an appropriate contact name to address your complaint to. Check their job title to make sure this is someone fairly senior.

Put your complaint in writing

You can complain by phone if you want to, but it’s generally more effective to complain in writing. A written complaint is more likely to be taken seriously.

It’s important your letter includes certain information. First of all, don’t forget to include simple but important basics such as your account or policy number. You should aim to give a brief summary of your complaint in a clear and logical manner. Don’t get too bogged down with every minute detail. Explain why you’re unhappy about the situation, and what action you expect your bank to take to resolve matters.

Ask for redress

If you think you should be compensated for the treatment you have received from your bank, make sure you say so in your complaint letter. There’s no need to be specify amounts of compensation, but make it clear that's exactly what you expect to receive.  

Be polite

Don’t ever be rude or abusive in any contact you have with your bank, even if you feel like you’re making little headway. It definitely won’t help your case. Keep calm and stick to the facts.

Give your bank a chance

Before you take things further, you’ll need to give your bank a reasonable opportunity to resolve your complaint. This timescale should be indicated in the bank’s complaint procedure. It’s highly unlikely you’ll get an immediate response, so be prepared to sit it out for a while.

Keep records

It’s important you keep copies of correspondence between you and your bank, and any evidence you have sent to back up your case. You may need to refer to this documentation later down the line.

Don’t be fobbed off ­

With a bit of luck your bank will respond to your complaint letter in a satisfactory way. If that doesn’t happen and you’re unhappy with the outcome, contact the person dealing with your complaint in writing again and inform them you’ll be referring the problem to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The FOS is an independent organisation which specifically resolves disputes between individuals and financial companies. Check out the FOS’s advice on how to complain. The FOS is completely free to use and may be able to help you claim compensation. But don’t be surprised if it takes some time to reach a resolution. If your complaint is complex it could take several months.

If you’re still not satisfied with the FOS’s final decision, you won’t be able to appeal. In this case it may be necessary to pursue your complaint through legal channels, but this will most likely incur legal fees.

Vote with your feet

After all this, you’ll probably have had more than enough of your bank. If you’ve lost faith, vote with your feet and switch. Moving current accounts is far more simple than you might think with some banks offering dedicated switching services. Choose a high interest current account or one that offers a cash incentive to switch.

Complain to your broadband provider

Get organised

Sort out your paperwork. Even if you’re currently happy with the service you’re receiving, it’s a good idea to keep your bills filed in chronological order and keep all correspondence between you and your provider. This will come in handy should you later need to complain.

Approach your provider

Always approach your internet service provider (ISP) first with any complaints or problems and insist that they explain their official complaints procedure to you before you enter into a dispute.

Get writing

If you want to complain, write to your provider to explain what the issue is and say you wish to start an official complaints procedure.

Keep a call log

Maintain a call log with all the details of each call that you’ve held with your ISP. The log should include the time and date of the call, as well as the name of the person you spoke with.

Remember passwords

It’s important to remember all of your passwords or keywords as your claim will lack credibility if you forget.

Use bank statements

It’s worth holding onto your bank statements and using them to add credibility to your claims – particularly if the issue is about a billing error.

Be patient

Don’t be impatient, angry or irritable when talking to your ISP. Be polite and don’t raise your voice. Ensure you’re talking to the right department and the correct people to deal with your complaint.

Get confirmation

If any changes are made to your contract, or any verbal agreements are made over the phone, ask for written confirmation.

Take it further

If, after eight weeks, there has been no resolution, contact an alternative dispute resolution organisation to get their advice on how to proceed. Good options are the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) and the Office of the Telecommunications Ombudsman (OTELO).

Complain to the taxman

Trust in the taxman has rarely been so low, with 2010 seeing a series of serious mistakes being made. And sadly, many of us may be losing out on some significant sums of cash due to our own ignorance towards the tax process.

So you need to make sure you have the right tax code. It’s a good idea to have a read of this section of Revenue & Custom's website as it gives a decent breakdown of the different codes and what they mean. If you then believe the code is wrong, you’ll need to contact your tax office.

Should you feel unhappy about the way HMRC has treated you – perhaps because they are targeting you for a supposed underpayment – then don’t just accept it, complain!

You’ll need to contact the complaints manager at the relevant tax office, providing details such as your National Insurance number and the last reference number the taxman used when contacting you. You will need to detail not just what you believe the taxman has done wrong, but also what they should do to put it right.

HMRC should then respond within 15 days.

If you aren’t happy with the response you get, you can then ask for a senior officer (who has not previously been involved) to take a fresh look and make a final judgement.

If you’re still unhappy, then it’s time to turn to the Adjudicator. Head over to the Adjudicator’s website, where there are full details on how to raise your case with them.

Complain to a company

If you’re annoyed with your energy provider, mobile phone operator or any other company, take a look at these tips.

Approach the company directly

You may be tempted to go straight to the relevant ombudsman, but your first step should always be to approach the company directly.

An ombudsman usually won’t take on a case on your behalf until it’s satisfied you’ve first tried to sort things out yourself.

Don’t hang around

There are often time limits (set, for example, by the ombudsman concerned) which mean your complaint could be invalid if filed after a certain period of time. Always register your grievance as quickly as possible after the event in question.

Put your complaint in writing

Hard copy, written complaints often seem to be taken more seriously than those made by telephone or email.

It’s a good idea to type your letter, sign it yourself and send it recorded delivery. That way, there’s no possibility of the company claiming it ‘never received it’.

Similarly, if any verbal agreements are made (either over the phone or face-to-face) politely insist you get those in writing, too.

Follow procedure

An exception to the above tip is if the company’s preferred complaints procedure specifically asks that you call, or send an email.

All companies should have an official set of procedures to deal with complaints, so make sure you get a copy of this document at the earliest possible stage, and adhere to it.

You can always go ‘off-piste’ and approach them in a different way if the preferred method fails to get a response.

There are some useful general guidelines about how to complain (by phone and in writing) in this section of the Citizens Advice website.

Make copies

Make and keep photocopies of all correspondence you send. This is not only evidence of the complaint having being made, but a handy memory aid when you can’t remember exactly how you put things.

Useful templates

If you’re not a confident letter writer, use a template letter provided by a consumer group to help plan what you want to say.

For example, Citizens Advice has put together a range of useful template letters, covering everything from faulty goods and contract cancellation to unfair credit agreements.

A specific target

If you write ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ and send the letter to a company’s general address, you’re pretty unlikely to get a response.

Find out exactly who is responsible for addressing your complaint (if necessary by phoning up and asking the company first) and address it to him or her specifically.

Personally, I wouldn’t advocate writing to the company’s CEO as a first resort… though judging by this article, that approach can get results! I would keep that as a fall-back option, if your first complaint seems to fall on deaf ears.

Politeness costs nothing

Stick to the facts and try your very best not to get emotional or blow your top. That way, you won’t be providing the company with any ammunition about you being aggressive or unreasonable - and your complaint is more likely to be taken seriously.

No one likes a ‘Mr Angry of Tunbridge Wells’!

Call for back-up

Are you still dissatisfied with how your complaint has been handled? Now’s the time to contact the relevant ombudsman and ask it to take on your case.

There’s an ombudsman or complaints-handling organisation policing practically every industry in the UK. You can use this A-Z search tool to find the one you need.

For example, if your complaint relates to a financial company, you’ll need to deal with the Financial Ombudsman Service. This page of its website shows you the first steps to take.

Finally… avoid this rip-off!

You may be approached by one or more claims management firms, offering to take the whole nasty complaints business off your hands.

However, I would steer well clear - you’ll usually end up giving them your hard-earned cash with no guarantee of success. Read Got a complaint? Avoid this rip-off! to find out why they are a right royal rip-off!


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