How to make a consumer complaint
When you buy goods or services in Ireland or another EU Member State you will have certain rights under consumer legislation. It can be difficult sometimes to know where to complain or to whom you should address your complaint. There are a number of consumer organisations in Ireland and throughout the EU that provide advice on your rights. In the interests of good customer service the majority of businesses will be pleased to set any matter right.
Know what your rights are
Before you make a complaint be aware of your consumer rights under the law. If you have a written contract or description of the goods or services read what it states. Your complaint will almost certainly be much more effective if you are aware of your rights. Remember: A repair, a replacement or a refund are all possible options where goods are faulty.
Deal with the issue as soon as possible
If a product is defective it is important that you return it as soon as possible after you notice the fault. If you keep a faulty item for a long time, you may be considered to have accepted the item in that state. The situation is similar for services that you are unhappy with. In some cases, there are time limits for taking certain procedures (for example, if you have a complaint about a package holiday you need to complain to the tour operator within 28 days of returning from the holiday). Even where there are no time limits set down, it is easier for you and the organisation to deal with recent events.
Find and keep all relevant documents
It is important to keep any documents relating to your complaint. You may need these records later if you take your complaint to another authority to solve it. It is also useful to keep track of the steps you took to address this complaint. That means keeping receipts or cheque-stubs as proof of purchase for the products or services. If you are complaining by telephone, make sure you record details of the calls. That is, keeping track of whom you spoke to, what was agreed, etc. If your complaint is in writing, keep records of what you write, send photocopies of receipts and keep originals.
Proof of purchase
It is your responsibility to prove that you bought the goods or services that you are complaining about. A receipt is just one way to prove that you bought an item or paid for a service. If you paid for the item by credit card, you could use your credit card statement as proof of purchase. A cheque stub can also be used as proof of purchase. If you do pay for an item in cash, ask for a receipt and keep it safe. A receipt issued following a cash transaction is your only record that you have bought an item.
Start at the least formal level
You should begin by making your complaint informally. This means giving the retailer or service provider the first opportunity to solve the problem. It is advisable to speak to a 'decision-maker' such as a supervisor or a manager who may have the authority to give you a refund or replacement. If informal contact with the business doesn't work you should next put your complaint in writing. It may be useful to check in advance if the business has a specific customer complaint form for you to fill in. When you put your complaint in writing, remember to be clear and state all the facts of the case. Remain objective and avoid giving personal opinion, or comments. If direct contact with the company does not work to your satisfaction, you should then complain to the appropriate complaints body if there is one. Escalating a matter is considerably easier when you have exhausted less formal routes. You may also find that many consumer organisations cannot help with a problem if you have already taken the case to a solicitor. Exhausting less formal routes also demonstrates that you took all reasonable steps to redress your complaint before complaining formally. It also demonstrates that the retailer had a number of opportunities to put matters right before you chose to escalate them.
If you buy faulty goods and you complain successfully to the retailer you are entitled to a replacement, a repair or a refund. The Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980 does not state how a refund should be made. The retailer or supplier of services can give a refund in cash, cheque or a refund to a credit card account. The retailer could also issue a credit note. Remember: A repair, a replacement or a refund are all possible options where goods are faulty. Read more about Refunds, Credit notes and Vouchers here.
Appropriate complaints body
If you are still unhappy after you have complained to the retailer or service provider, you may need to go to a complaints body. In some areas, there is no specific body to deal with your complaint and your only recourse is to the Courts, particularly the Small Claims Court.
There are a number of consumer complaints bodies in Ireland and abroad that protect your rights. Some of these bodies are based in law, others are regulated by the industry, others are voluntary organisations. Some consumer complaints bodies have the power to prosecute offenders, others have the power to make recommendations or non-binding directions.
If you are unsure of your rights, get help from the various information sources listed in consumer protection organisations. An Alternative Dispute Resolution Body may also be able to help you. In some cases, there is no relevant complaints body and you may then have to consider taking a case to the Small Claims Court.
If you have bought on hire purchase (HP) or under a consumer hire agreement
Anything you buy under a hire purchase (HP) or a consumer hire agreement must be of merchantable quality, as described and fit for its purpose. In other words, consumer rights in this situation are the same as as if the goods were purchased outright. If you are dissatisfied with goods received under a consumer hire agreement, you should make your complaint to the retailer who sold you the goods. You may also be able to make a complaint to the finance company. If you are unhappy with the retailer's response, you should contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). The Central Bank of Ireland is responsible for the regulation of credit institutions and has implemented a Code of Conduct for credit institutions.
Consumer complaints in the EU
European legislation protects you every time you shop in Ireland or in another EU Member State. Consumers can benefit by availing of cheaper prices and better selection of items that the single market provides. Consumer problems that arise when you shop across borders are often more difficult to resolve than problems with local suppliers. Language differences and distance make it more difficult to complain effectively. The European Consumer Centre (ECC) in Ireland is there to support you if you have a problem with a supplier of goods or services in another EU Member State. ECC Ireland provides a free information and advice service on consumer rights in the EU. It is part of an EU wide network of consumer centres and it can help you to solve consumer disputes arising in other member states of the EU. It does this by trying to solve the dispute directly with the provider of goods or services and, if this fails, by referring your case to an alternative dispute resolution body.