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Ethics, customer service and complaint handling: guest blog by The Complaining Cow

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow consumer champion, writes a guest post on ethics, customer service and complaint handling.

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on how businesses behave and how they treat their customers. Whether it’s airlines not giving refunds or businesses profiteering through price hikes, consumers are taking note of the companies that are doing the right thing and those that don’t.

Refunds have been a huge issue for consumers. Last the year Ombudsman Services undertook a survey regarding the effect of Covid-19 on complaints. It found that consumers have generally been more tolerant of companies this year and found that 24% of those surveyed said that they did not complain at all during the last lockdown, as they were more lenient. 41% said that they had become more tolerant of poor service and 10% said that they were less tolerant. 

However, this tolerance has not lasted and consumers’ patience is now certainly wearing thin with companies that are misbehaving.

Consumers are clearly stating that they will not use companies again that have treated them badly. Those companies that are stubbornly and illegally holding onto refunds will see consumers request Section 75 refunds on their credit cards or go to the Small Claims Court and win. In failing to respect their customers they will lose both the spending and the goodwill of their clients. And bad news about companies spreads quickly.

So, what are the legal rights which you can assert when you are having difficulty with a trader?

1. The Consumer Rights Act 2015

The Consumer Rights Act entitles you to items that are free from defects, are of satisfactory quality, last a reasonable length of time and are as described. If your item is fewer than 30 days from purchase and is in breach of any of these things then you can insist on a refund. You will need to show that the fault was there at the point of purchase. After 30 days from purchase and under 6 months, the onus is on the trader to show that the fault was caused by you and if not provide a replacement or repair. After 6 months the onus will be on you to prove that the fault was there at the point of purchase.

2. Changing your mind

When shopping online (or anywhere that is not a physical shop) you have 14 days from receiving the item to notify the trader that you have changed your mind and a further 14 days to return the item. Check the trader’s terms and conditions for returns. You may have to pay for return postage. However, if the item is in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, then you do not pay return postage whatever the company says!

3. Out of pocket expenses

You are also entitled to any out of pocket expenses if the company doesn’t turn up when they say they will, such as wages for time off work if you have to arrange another date for delivery.

4. Delivery date

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 also states that goods must be delivered within the time frame agreed with the seller. If one hasn’t been  agreed (you have agreed a time frame if the listing supplies a time frame) the trader must deliver ‘without undue delay’ and at the very latest not more than 30 days from the day after the contract is made. After this time you are entitled to a full refund for the item and delivery costs.

5. Damaged during delivery

If anything is damaged during a delivery, including on your property, you are entitled to redress because under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 deliveries must be carried out with reasonable skill and care.

6. Safe place for delivery

By providing details for a “safe place”, you are agreeing to it being safe! So, if there is a chance that an item could be stolen from your doorstep or shed, don’t inform the trader that they can leave the item there. If you did not say the item could be left anywhere, then a photo of the item on your doorstep is not proof that it was delivered.


7. Cancelled flights

For cancelled flights you are entitled to a full refund regardless of what the airline might say. Normally, they must give this refund within 7 days but some leeway should be allowed given the current circumstances. However, a delay of several months is not acceptable. Unfortunately the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is still not doing enough to ensure that airlines abide by the law. More help and advice around flights and holidays is available in the article Travel in the time of Coronavirus - your rights explained.

8. Terms and conditions

Do not feel you have to be bound by a company’s terms and conditions. If they seem unethical they are probably unfair under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. For a practice to be unfair under these rules they must harm, or be likely to harm, the economic interests of the average consumer. For example, when a shopper makes a purchasing decision they would not have made had they been given accurate information or not put under unfair pressure to do purchase.

9. Use of credit cards

Purchase items over £100 using a credit card if this is an option for you. Your credit card company is then jointly liable should things go wrong, so if the trader won’t give you a refund to which you are entitled, you can contact the bank and apply for a refund under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

10. Membership of resolution schemes

A good company will be a member of an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme, usually an Ombudsman. Membership shows that they are willing to pay to ensure that they will put the matter right if a customer is unhappy with a purchase or service.

Happpy, sad and neutral faces on feedback dial

How can you best complain effectively if you are being fobbed off?

1. Always complain in writing so that you have your evidence trail. When complaining in writing you can also keep your cool and not forget important facts! If the company makes it difficult for you to complain in writing, write directly to the CEO, who is unlikely to respond personally (although some do). This means that the matter will get escalated and you have your written record if you need to take the matter further, such as to an Ombudsman or Small Claims Court. You can find company email addresses on the website   

2. Be polite, succinct (summarising in bullet points if the matter is long/complicated) and objective.


3.  Give a deadline of two weeks maximum (10 working days) for a reply. This focuses the company and ensures your correspondence doesn’t slip to the end of the queue! 

4. Say what you want as the outcome and what you will do if it doesn’t happen. So for example, you may say you will share the issue on social media, use an Ombudsman or go to the Small Claims Court if it is not resolved satisfactorily.

About the author

Helen has always had a passion for fighting injustice. She started complaining to companies that didn’t keep to agreements or broke consumer law from the age of 11!

She is the consumer columnist for This Is Money and author of two bestselling books: How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! and 101 Habits of an Effective Complainer. She also blogs as The Complaining Cow.

Special offer for Ethical Consumer readers

You can get 15% off signed copies of her books if you buy direct from Helen, supporting an independent, not Amazon! Use the code Ethicalcow when purchasing from her website.