Make 2019 the year you complain – and complain effectively. It is too easy to shrug off bad service and overcharging because you think the money involved is not worth the effort or because you assume you will be wasting your time.
Look at it this way: you have a duty to complain to hold companies to account, deter bad behaviour and improve service for all customers.
I have already decided to make more effort and have achieved several pleasing successes. The most surprising was a refund from the private car parking company, Parkingeye, which runs the car park at our local hospital. We correctly paid to park; so were surprised two weeks later to receive a penalty charge for £40 rising to £80. We had paid in cash and lost the receipt; so my partner immediately settled the fine to avoid the higher charge.
I disagreed with this tactic and appealed, suggesting that we might have entered one digit of the car registration number incorrectly. Parkingeye found that we had and promptly refunded us £40. It did not even deduct an administration fee.
My biggest refund came from Tesco Bank. A year ago, I switched house insurance away from Tesco but forgot that the policy renewed automatically. Tesco emailed an updated policy and took £258 from my bank account. It was entirely my fault that I did not notice and
paid for insurance twice over. Twelve months later, the policy again renewed and, this time, I did see it. I sent Tesco proof that I had been insured elsewhere and it refunded the whole £258.
On a smaller scale, I had several gardening successes with mislabelled plants that eventually flowered in the wrong colour. A local nursery and a bulb-provider both refunded the cost and let me keep the wrong plants. The online nursery Crocus emailed a 20 per cent discount one day after I had placed an order. When I appealed, it took 20 per cent off my bill.
One key to successful complaining is to be polite. Avoid being emotional or revengeful. Marshal your facts and check where the law is on your side. Be clear about what you want to achieve, whether this is compensation, a replacement or simply an apology.
Some companies automatically put up hurdles to hinder your complaint. Staff are trained to knock down your arguments – so be prepared to persevere. Put your case in writing, even if you initially speak to someone on the phone, and always keep a note of the date, time and names of people you speak to.
You can take encouragement from several recent measures across different sectors that boost consumer rights and complaints procedures. Ofgem has ordered the largest energy suppliers to improve the way they deal with complaints. The Gambling Commission has introduced tougher action against businesses that break advertising rules or breach consumer law. The Financial Conduct Authority has instructed payday lenders that they must compensate customers who were sold unaffordable loans.
There is a proposal to raise the maximum the Financial Ombudsman Service awards from £150,000 to £350,000 for problems starting next April.
Finally, if you need back-up handling a complaint, contact Resolver – www. resolver.co.uk – a free service.
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