As a nation, we're very good at moaning amongst ourselves, but we're not so hot at effectively ensuring our consumer rights are being met properly
I've caught snippets of a recent BBC Three television series called Don't Get Scewed, which explored how well we know our consumer rights, and how not to get caught out by inept or unscrupulous companies.
Entertaining and well formatted, each episode set up three scenarios for unsuspecting members of the public, Beadle's About-style, to see how they reacted to their misfortune and if they were able to argue their rights effectively. The three stooges dishing out the bad luck were convincing and not a little bit brave.
What the show achieved I feel, is to illustrate that as a nation we're not very clued up on our consumer rights, and neither are many businesses.
We all know what we think we have a right to, but this is not always the case. And there are doubtless hundreds of people everyday who come off worse with companies who either don't understand or don't implement correct consumer policies.
A recent article on the Times Online website outlined a simple approach to complaining effectively:
"It is important that you remain – or appear – calm throughout the process and keep a record of all communications. For tailored advice, call Consumer Direct on 0845 4040506.
Know your rights
Complaints are best made with confidence: “I am entitled to…”, not “I think I am entitled to…”.
Therefore it is critical that you understand your statutory rights. These are contained in the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (among other legislation) and state that goods should be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described, while work carried out by a tradesman or service provider should be done with reasonable care, in a reasonable time and at a reasonable charge.
If these conditions are not met, you are entitled to a refund – from the retailer, rather than manufacturer in the case of goods – within a reasonable time, then to reduced compensation for six years from purchase. What is reasonable varies, but it can be as little as a few days.
It is best to report any problem as soon as possible. In the first instance, this means a relatively casual approach, such as a phone call, e-mail to customer services or a face-to-face chat with a tradesman or shop manager. Explain the situation and ask for a refund or, if you prefer, replacement or repair.
Put it in writing
If you do not obtain an immediate result, write a letter. This should be addressed to a name – typically the customer services manager – rather than sir or "Sir/Madam". It should explain the problem and include specifics, such as details of the product or service, the date of purchase and names of staff. State what evidence you have – a receipt or photos of a botched job, perhaps – but do not send originals. Then state that you are entitled to a refund under consumer law, that you would like a refund and that you expect to hear back within a set time; 14 days is good. Your letter should be typed, where possible, and sent by recorded delivery.
Still no luck? Contact the relevant trade association or regulatory body. These are listed, with other useful information, at howtocomplain.com. Staff may take up the matter or direct you to a dispute resolution service. In some cases, the complaint may be referred to an ombudsman.
Next contact your local Trading Standards Office or Citizens’ Advice for free help and advice.
If all else fails, threaten then initiate legal action. Community Legal Advice and Citizens Advice can provide free help."
(Taken from the Time Online article How To Complain by Mark Bridge)
It's not a bad idea for businesses to appraise themselves of current consumer regulations, then hopefully complaints could be avoided in the first place.
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Kim Frances is a freelance writer and photographer with The Little White Studio.