How to complain about products and get results

How to complain about products and get results

Meet our expert

Richard Lloyd is executive director of the consumer champion Which? which has been campaigning to make people’s lives fairer, simpler and safer since the Fifties. Which? offers independent advice on a wide range of subjects and its services and products put consumers’ needs first to bring them better value.

Goods or services?

Before you complain the first step is to identify whether what you’ve bought is goods or a service. For some things this is easy – having a haircut is a service, while clothes are goods – but other
things can be more confusing; a mobile phone on a contract is a service, while a pay-as-you-go mobile would be counted as goods.

Goods sold should be

  • As described
  • Satisfactory quality
  • Fit for purpose

Claiming money back for faulty goods

Under the Sale of Goods Act, products bought must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. If you discover a fault early on you need to act fast. You can reject a faulty item and get a full refund, but only if you do this within a reasonable time – usually just three to four weeks.

If you’re seeking a refund, make sure you have the receipt or proof of purchase and, if you bought by card, the card you used to buy the item, as this will make the whole process much quicker.

After this initial period you probably won’t be able to get a full refund, but you can expect a replacement or a repair. However, it’s up to the retailer to decide which of these is the best option for them.

Simply phoning or visiting the retailer to explain the problem should be enough but sometimes it’s worth putting your complaint in writing as well. Outline exactly what the fault is and what redress you want. Make sure you include details of when you bought your item.

The shop says it’s the manufacturer’s fault

If the shop tries to tell you to return your goods to the manufacturer, they’re wrong. Under the Sale of Goods Act, your contract is with the retailer from whom you bought your goods – not the manufacturer. Don’t be fobbed off by sales assistants who tell you otherwise.

Ask to speak to the store manager or write a letter pointing out that the goods are faulty and outlining the redress you want. If necessary, point out that they are breaching your statutory rights and that you will be contacting local Trading Standards about it (sometimes the threat of involving Trading Standards will be enough to resolve your dispute). 

Claiming money back for shoddy services

If services have not been provided with reasonable care and skill, you could be entitled to a refund and compensation. The Supply of Goods and Services Act covers services from photographers, hairdressers and mobile phone providers to building contractors and decorators.

If you’re not happy with a service you’ve paid for,  tell the trader or service provider straight away. If you don’t say, they won’t have the chance to put things right.

To claim a refund you’ll need to prove that reasonable care and skill was not taken in providing the service and this can be difficult. If you’re unsure, contact the trade or professional association or ask an independent expert for an opinion.

The small claims court

You can take your claim to the small claims court (in England the upper limit for claims is £10,000).  Keep a log of evidence and include photos where possible. Wth a bad haircut, for example, show pictures of your hair before the cut, what you asked for, and pictures of the actual cut. 

If it goes to court, you’ll need to prove that ‘in the balance of probabilities’ the work was not up to scratch.

Work should be provided

  • With reasonable care and skill
  • In a reasonable time (or within time agreed)
  • For a reasonable charge (if no fixed price was set in advance)

Extra protection with a credit card

If you’ve paid for goods or services on your credit card then your card company shares equal responsibility with the retailer or trader. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if you have spent more than £100 and less than £30,000 you can claim if something goes wrong.

This is particularly useful if the retailer or trader has gone bust, or you’re getting no response to your complaints. You can make a claim to both retailer and credit card provider simultaneously.  If the cost of the transaction was under £100 you may have redress through your credit card’s Chargeback scheme.

Distance selling regulations

Shopping online gives you extra rights under the Distance Selling Regulations. You have the right to key information about a seller, including their address along with the right to cancel. Your right to cancel starts at the time of purchase until seven days from the day after you receive your items. If you cancel, you should receive a full refund.

Use our checklist to get resultsn    

  • Find out who to complain to

Contact customer services  and follow the company’s complaints procedure.

  • What do you want?

Ask for a refund, replacement, compensation or a simple apology.

  • Be methodical and polite

Keep records of who you’ve spoken to, the time and date and the key points discussed. Always stay calm and courteous.

  • Follow up in writing

Formal complaints are best made in writing. Be clear and concise, including any relevant account or reference numbers. Set a reasonable deadline for response and send letters by recorded delivery.

  • Attach evidence

Copies of receipts, statements, photographic evidence, or even eye-witness accounts, can work wonders. If you send originals, keep a copy for your records.

  • Still not happy?

Consider bringing a claim through the Ombudsman Service Scheme or small claims court. For more information visit