How to make an effective consumer complaint
From online shopping, air passenger rights, renting a car abroad, to booking holiday accommodation, there are many issues that consumers may encounter. Sometimes it can be hard to know if you have rights and what those rights are; how to make the complaint, and who to contact if you need further help.
The good news is that consumers have substantial rights under European Union and national consumer legislation, and traders should abide by these, if it is clear that you have a good case. You can find the applicable consumer rights legislation in the EU and the national consumer protection statutory instruments in Ireland here.
Before you fire off your complaint to or against a trader (be in an airline, an online store or a car rental company, etc.), keep in mind these three Ps: patience, persistence, politeness. Likewise, from the point of view of the trader, it is far better that they handle your complaint in fast, fair, friendly manner (the famous three Fs of customer service) so that they retain your custom.
Here’s what you need to know on how to prepare, document and execute a consumer complaint.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
When it comes to consumer legislation the main resources of information for your consumer rights in Ireland are:
- The European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland, for cross-border consumer complaints, i.e. complaints against a trader based in another European Union or European Economic Area country.*
- The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), the Consumer Association of Ireland, and the Citizens Information Centre provide information and assistance in making complaints against traders based in Ireland.
- In relation to air passenger rights, specifically, the Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR) is the National Enforcement Body for Regulation 261/2004.
- Other consumer policy and consumer rights enforcement institutions in Ireland can be found here.
CHECK THE TERMS & CONDITIONS
When things go wrong you should look through the Terms and Conditions of your purchase of goods contract, travel package documentation or airline ticket. These should be easily located on the trader’s website. That is where you should find clear information about refunds, cancellation policies, non-delivery and complaints procedures.
CONTACT THE TRADER
Make sure you direct your complaint to the correct department, follow the complaint procedure outlined on the trader’s website (if any), and contact the trader via the dedicated customer service online form or email address, phone number, postal address.
Remember – be assertive but not aggressive. Be brief and ask to have the complaint escalated. Make sure to give sufficient details to assess your request. Always give the company the opportunity to resolve the matter through their internal policies and procedures first.
These are the steps to follow when making a complaint:
- Make a complaint in writing – by post or e-mail – as soon as possible after identifying a problem. Written correspondence reduces the potential for misunderstandings and is more likely to prompt written responses, which are normally provided after sufficient consideration is given to the matter.
- The correspondence should clearly explain what the problem is and what remedies you are seeking in a polite manner.
- Make sure to enclose/attach a copy of the relevant documentation/paperwork (order confirmation, delivery receipts, photographic evidence of a fault or damage). Never send original documents by post.
- Give the trader a time limit to resolve the matter (for example, 14 days).
- Document every complaint step you take by saving your correspondence with the trader, including copies of e-mails, proof of submission (email timestamp, read receipt, postage), or take a screenshot if you are submitting a complaint via an online complaint form or chat window.
ESCALATE YOUR COMPLAINT
If the trader does not reply to your complaint, refuses to take action, or makes a final offer that you are unwilling to accept, then you can seek further advice and assistance, as follows:
- If you are an Irish resident and you have a dispute with a trader that is also based in Ireland, contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). Read their consumer rights information in their consumer hub here first.
- If you are an Irish resident and you have a dispute with a trader that is in another EU/EEA** country you can contact ECC Ireland through our page here. Our service is free, confidential and strictly out-of-court. Here is what we do:
In order to help with resolving your dispute, we may seek assistance from our counterparts in the country where the trader is located, through our partner offices in the European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net), which offers free legal advice and assistance to consumers who have problems with cross-border complaints where the consumer and the trader are based in different EU/EAA countries. Learn about the work of ECC Net on COVID-19 consumer rights here.
If necessary, we make contact with the trader on your behalf and seek to mediate your dispute in order to reach an amicable solution.
If the above does not end in resolution, we can advise you on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes*** available to you and other redress options in Ireland and abroad.
Always be informed when attempting to claim your consumer rights and making a complaint against a company. These are a few organisations and resources that can help.
- ConsumerConnect.ie helps consumers make better choices so that they are empowered to act for themselves; get good value for money and are treated fairly, and; know where to go when they need support.
- itsyourmoney.ie offers consumers free, impartial information on financial products, from home or car insurance to mortgages and loans. It includes consumer guides in plain English, price comparisons, calculators, podcasts and other useful tools.
- Complaint templates: if you are unsure what to include in a complaint, use these samples and templates from the CCPC.