Who you gonna call? The Complaints Busters

Unhappy customers have been given their own Ombudsman to help fight for them.

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The Independent Online

From today, it should start to get easier to complain if you feel you’ve been badly treated by a company or organisation. A new Consumer Ombudsman is being launched 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, 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. Now a new online service hopes to be able to help by dealing with your complaint if it can, or helping you find the right scheme. The new website is being run by Ombudsman Services, which was set up 12 years ago and has since dealt with more than 1.3 million people and their problems in the energy sector, as well as communications and property.

To begin with, it hopes that the new site will help to resolve complaints about home maintenance, improvements or installation services, retail, second-hand cars and motor repairs and servicing. “Our research shows that 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 (pictured below), the chief executive of the Ombudsman Services.

The latest figures from the ombudsman’s Consumer Action Monitor show that there were 66 million complaints about products and services last year; that works out at one complaint every 1.2 seconds. But many complaints fizzle out as people often assume it is not worth the hassle. In fact, 40 million complaints remain unresolved in the UK every year.

That is all set to change because a new EU directive which comes into force in October will demand that there are appropriate ways to resolve disputes across all sectors. Companies which do not offer access to a resolution service, such as an ombudsman, will have to explain to consumers why not.

Ultimately, if there’s nowhere to take a complaint other than to the courts, this may be enough to persuade people to use other companies which have signed up to a scheme. Membership of a scheme should lead to a quick, independent resolution of a problem without having to stump up for expensive legal bills or a lengthy court case. However, using the courts is still open to you if you are unhappy with the proposed resolution.

Everyone has the right to complain if they feel they have been badly treated, but If you want to get your complaint heard and dealt with, there’s a crucial but simple procedure you should follow. Firstly, it’s important to have a clear idea what it is you want to achieve. Do you want your money back? Or extra compensation? Or maybe just an apology, and a promise that the company will improve things. Whatever happens, it never helps to become emotional when making a complaint. Being unable to keep your anger in check could cause you fresh problems. Keeping

calm and acting reasonably is much more likely to encourage a similar response.

On the other hand, there’s no need to feel embarrassed about complaining. It’s your right to do so if you’re not satisfied, and it may well help other people if the company changes the way it does things. But do ensure you sort out one complaint at a time: it’s really difficult to deal with a long list of complaints. Keeping things clear and simple is much more likely to ensure positive progress. Also, keep records of all emails, letters, paperwork, bills and receipts relating to your case, and if you are asked to send them anywhere, send photocopies and keep the originals.

If you find that you are not getting results by complaining directly to the company, identify the person or organisation that has the power to make changes and help. If your complaint has not been resolved quickly – normally within eight weeks – by the company or organisation you are complaining to, you can take your problem to an industry Ombudsman.

The best-known scheme is the Financial Ombudsman, which deals with complaints about banks, insurers, and investment firms. It can be contacted on 0800 023 4567 or at complaint.info@financial-ombudsman.org.uk.

Then there’s the Legal Ombudsman for complaints about lawyers, which can be reached on 0300 555 0333 or at enquiries@legalombudsman.org.uk.

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

There are a range of other ombudsman schemes and the new service should pass you on to the appropriate one if it can’t deal with your complaint itself.

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