Consumer Protection – What to Do When Things Go Wrong in 4 Stages

Often it is much easier to enforce your rights when the issue you have involves goods. For example, they have either been delivered or not. They work properly or they don’t. Issues with goods are much easier to prove or disprove.

Services on the other hand, can be more difficult. Let’s go back to our example of the lawn cutting service. Your lawn cutting service has finished the job and you think that there are too many grass cuttings left. This is your subjective opinion but the contactor may disagree and say that picking up the trimmings was not part of the job. Who is right? It looks like you need a bit of help to sort this one out.

So what are the courses of action open to you when things start to go wrong?

Stage 1 – Communication

In many cases, the existence of clear Consumer Protection law means that consumers do not actually need to resort to legal proceedings. The law clearly lays out the rights and responsibilities of both buyer and seller and provides a firm basis for resolving disputes. Often the most effective way of sorting something out is for the buyer and the seller to communicate.

Many larger companies and institutions have their own processes for sorting out disputes with customers. Of course, if you have a good understanding of your rights, this gives you an advantage straight away.

If your dispute is with a company with no formal complaints process, then you could start by sending a letter of complaint. Check out our letter of complaint templates here – link out to letter of complaint pdf downloads

Stage 2 – Seek Advice

There is plenty of advice out there for people who need to be sure of their rights in certain situations with websites (this being one of them) and forums readily available to consult with on a range of consumer issues. But if you are looking for something official to fall back on – the first port of call is often Trading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority General advice on a range of consumer issues is also available through Citizens Advice

Stage 3 – Mediation

Sometimes a situation arises where communication is simply not getting anywhere. The official word for this is “deadlock”. If you are dealing with larger institutions like banks or energy companies they are required by law to issue a letter of deadlock on your request.

At this stage you enter into mediation and will be given details of the regulator or ombudsman that you should take your complaint to. If the trader you have a dispute with is a member of a trade association, they may have an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process in place.

If the trader is not a member of a trade association or body, then there may well be an official or independent regulator or Ombudsman to whom you can take your dispute. Check out our list of ombudsman and regulators here {link to – List of Regulators and Ombudsman}

Important: In most cases once the facts have been examined and a decision made, the ruling of the Ombudsman is final and binding and prohibits you from taking further action.

The last resort would be to pay for mediation using a civil mediation service. You can search for a local fixed price civil mediation provider at http://www.civilmediation.justice.gov.uk/

Stage 4 – Court Action

If you have come to the point where you have no option but to pursue a matter in court and the value of a case is £10,000 or less, it will generally be allocated to the small claims track. The procedure for filing a claim is reasonably simple and the necessary forms are available from court offices. You need to be aware that as a general rule, legal costs will not be awarded against the losing party. For this reason, many people decide to represent themselves. Most Citizens Advice branches will be able to offer advice and guidance on making a small claim from a specially trained adviser.

Important: The Court will need to be satisfied that you have made every attempt to resolve your dispute before bringing your claim and could penalise you if it decides that you haven’t done enough.

Find out more about the small claims process

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