All consumer complaints will now be heard – whoever has let you down

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The Independent Online

It's now easier to complain if you feel you've been badly treated by a company or organisation. A new Consumer Ombudsman was launched this week to deal with complaints about goods or services in any sector that doesn't already have one.

Most of us know about the Financial Ombudsman Service, particularly if we have needed to complain about being mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI), but many other areas do not have their own schemes.

The new online service aims to help resolve complaints about retailers, home maintenance, improvement or installation services, and second-hand cars, motor repairs and car servicing.

"Our research shows we're complaining more than ever before, but frustratingly we don't always know where to go. As a result, we have opened our doors to complaints in any sector," said Lewis Shand Smith, chief executive of Ombudsman Services, which is behind the new site.

Set up 12 years ago to resolve disputes, Ombudsman Services has dealt with more than 1.3 million people and their problems in the energy sector, as well as communications and property. With the new service, it has acted ahead of a new European Union directive that comes into force in October and will demand there are ways to resolve disputes across all sectors. Companies that do not offer access to a service such as an ombudsman will have to explain to consumers why not.

Membership of a scheme should lead to quick, independent resolution of a problem, without any need to stump up for expensive legal bills or a lengthy court case. However, using the courts will still be an option if you are unhappy with the proposed resolution.

Everyone has the right to complain, but if you want to get your grievance heard, there's a crucial procedure to follow. First, it's important to have a clear idea of what it is you want to achieve. Do you want your money back? Or extra compensation?

And whatever your course of action, it never helps to become emotional when making a complaint to a company. It could cause you fresh problems if you can't control your temper.

On the other hand, there's no need to feel embarrassed –it's your right to complain. But do sort out one grievance at a time as it's difficult to deal with a long list of them Also, keep records of all emails, letters, bills and receipts relating to your case – and send photocopies, not the originals.

If your complaint has not been resolved within eight weeks, you can take your problem to an ombudsman. The best-known is the Financial Ombudsman Service, which deals with complaints about banks, insurers, and investment firms. It can be contacted on 0800 023 4567.

Then there's the Legal Ombudsman for complaints about lawyers, which can be reached on 0300 555 0333.

The new online service at consumer-ombudsman.org is open for any complaint outside financial services.

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