How to complain successfully on the high street

Holly Thomas

The new Retail Ombudsman deals with disputes between retailers and shoppers. Holly Thomas explains how to get results on the high street.



There are hundreds of thousands of cases for complaint brought to independent adjudicators every year. Now there is a new kid on the ombudsman block – The Retail Ombudsman. Many people shy away from complaining when they are wronged. But armed with the right information, you can get results.

Here’s what you need to know to make successful a complaint:

Register your complaint

To follow the proper procedure, you must start with the company that has caused you grief. Once a company has your complaint, under official rules, it has eight weeks to respond.

Make yours a decent case

Put your case in writing and send the letter by recorded delivery. Enclose photocopies, not originals, of any paperwork to bolster your complaint. Make sure your facts are correct and resist embellishing your story.

Take further action

If your complaint is rejected, you are unhappy with the response, or you do not get a response within eight weeks, you can go to an ombudsman. A consumer generally has six months from a company’s final response to take a complaint further.

The new Retail Ombudsman deals with disputes between retailers and shoppers. It has already signed up 3,000 retailers as members – although it is not releasing names, relying on companies to do so. It received more than 300 complaints during its first weekend in business.

Meanwhile, the Financial Ombudsman Service covers complaints about banking, insurance, pensions, savings, investments, credit and store cards, loans, credit and hire-purchase agreements, pawnbroking and financial advice. The Energy Ombudsman covers problems with gas and electricity suppliers. There is also a Legal Ombudsman to deal with legal professionals and an Estate Agent Ombudsman too.


Don’t pay to complain

Using the services of an ombudsman is free, but plenty of private companies market themselves as “claims handlers”, making complaints on behalf of clients and taking a cut of any financial award. Why pay someone else to do it for you when you’re just as likely to win by doing it yourself?

Taking a case to the small claims court

If all else fails, and you want compensation for your case, the small claims court is the low-hassle way to take legal action for up to £10,000 against a firm or individual. This kind of claim can be used if you want to claim compensation for a breach of contract. You can also take court action against someone who owes you money and won’t pay.

You can claim up to £10,000 in the small claims court in England and Wales. In Scotland and Ireland it’s £3,000. You usually have to pay a court fee, and you may not win your case or get your money back.

You will be referred to a mediation service before you proceed with your case to avoid court hearings where possible. But fees can reach £790 so it’s important to keep fees proportionate to your claim.

Be confident you've got a case before you start as new fees mean you'll now pay twice as much if you lose.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.