This piece first appeared in Saga Magazine in December 2013

I Want My Money Back

Complaining can be good for the soul – and for the pocket.
How to get compensation when things have gone wrong.

Before you even think of complaining, do a bit of research into what your rights are. Citizens Advice publishes excellent and detailed guidance at Make sure you are on the part for the right country. That will help you be clear about what you can claim. If you have lost money then you want that money returned. If a price has been too high then you want to pay a reasonable amount. If the goods or service you got was not what was promised then you want a refund.

When you complain, either by telephone or in writing, be courteous but firm. Do not be fobbed off but never be rude or offensive. The person you are dealing with is not personally responsible for the problem and being rude will hinder rather than help your claim.

Most companies have a clear way for you to complain and the first step is to call them. If the number they offer begins with 084 or 087 it may cost you a lot to phone. Use to find a standard landline number instead. If you cannot find one then add the cost of the calls to the money you ask for. Explain what has gone wrong and what you want. When you make a call also make notes of who you are speaking to and the date and time. Write down what you said and what the response was. Ask who you can write to if the outcome is not what you want. Keep these notes carefully. If there is a dispute almost all firms record complaints calls and you can get a copy or a transcript for £10 under data protection rules.

If the call does not produce the result you want then it is time to write. Start with the manager in charge of customer service, if there is one. If that doesn’t work move on to the Chief Executive – they usually have a fast track for customer complaints. You can find names and addresses online in the firm’s latest annual report or try the website which lists emails, phone numbers, and postal addresses for the bosses of nearly 3000 UK companies.

Keep your letter brief – preferably one side of paper and definitely no more than two. Send attachments (keep originals) only if they will help your case. Set a date by which you want a response. Two weeks is reasonable. State how long your case has been going on already. If there is an ombudsman service for the business then make it clear you will be referring it there eight weeks from when your dispute started. That is the normal time you have to wait before the Ombudsman will consider a case unless it has reached a deadlock earlier. Going to an ombudsman is free for you but will cost the company in the region of £500 per case. That can concentrate the company’s mind.

Once your case reaches a deadlock then see if there is a relevant Ombudsman. All financial services companies have to be part of the Financial Ombudsman Service. Call it on 0800 023 4567 or 0300 123 9 123 for general advice and how to complain. The website is There is also a separate Pensions Ombudsman for disputes about pension schemes and how they are run

The private company Ombudsman Services handles disputes in several fields The Communications Ombudsman deals with telephone, mobile phone and internet services including broadband call or call 0330 440 1614. All telecoms companies must belong to this or another smaller organisation called CISAS The websites list their members so you can check which one to complain to. Energy companies all have to subscribe to the Energy Ombudsman service which can deal with disputes over bills or switching supplier or the way services have been sold to you call or call 0330 440 1624. It also runs a Property Ombudsman, call or call 0330 440 1634, for complaints about estate agents, letting agents, surveyors, auctioneers, and property management firms, but joining is not compulsory. It is worth checking if a firm you are about to deal with is a member and if not then find one that is.

Holiday disputes are dealt with by the Association of British Travel Agents which represents 5000 companies. Problems with airlines and flights must be protected by ATOL under Civil Aviation Authority rules. Look for the ABTA and ATOL symbols when booking a holiday or a flight.

The Legal Ombudsman deals with disputes about legal services in England and Wales, call 0300 555 0333. There is also a Scottish Legal Complaints Commission or call 0131 201 2130. In Northern Ireland the Law Society determines and enforces standards

Firms in many different areas can subscribe to a Consumer Code approved by the Trading Standards Institute and if they do there will be a dispute resolution service

Go to court
If all else fails you can go to the small claims court to try to recover money from a firm or individual. In England and Wales small claims up to £10,000 can be made online through the very user-unfriendly website but it is worth persisting with as it is easier and cheaper than visiting a county court. You will have to pay a fee starting at £25 which you will normally get back from the other side if you win. In Scotland and Northern Ireland small claims are up to £3000 and you cannot do it online see and If you do win enforcing a judgement can be difficult if the loser is obdurate.


The normal outcome of a successful claim should be to put you in the financial position you would have been in if the goods or services had done what they were supposed to do. You should add daily interest on any loss at the standard rate of 8% a year. You should also get your costs reimbursed. You will seldom get anything significant for emotional stress. Ask for a small amount but do not expect to get even £100 except in exceptional circumstances.

A new website called automates most of these processes for you and stores the trail of corresppndence securely on its site. It covers energy, insurance, retail, telecoms, motoring and home support services, travel, and water. It plans to extend to other areas including leisure companies soon. It gives you telephone numbers and addresses to write to, a procedure to escalate your complaint right up to the Chief Executive, and details of relevant ombudsmen and dispute services. It drafts letters and will send them for you by post or email. It will also record phone calls to firms and store the file. At every stage it gives advice about what you can reasonably expect. Resolver is free to use by complainers, you pay low rates for any postage or phone calls. It makes its money by selling anonymous data to firms about what people are complaining about, how they compare to their rivals, and how well complaints are handled. It is a new service and I would be interested to hear how you get on with it.


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