Trading Standards Institute Advice

Writing an effective letter of complaint

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

In most cases, you will be satisfied with the goods, services or digital content supplied by a trader but sometimes things go wrong and you want to complain.

You can complain in person or by telephone but make sure that you follow this up with an email or letter to confirm the details of your complaint.

You may schedule a call from the trader to you, use an online contact form or use web chat as a way to report a complaint. This is fine but make sure your complaint is confirmed in writing.

To achieve the best possible outcome, consider the following points when writing to the trader:

  • for most contracts, but not all, the trader must give you certain important information, which includes after-sales information and details of any complaints-handling policy they may have. Check this before you complain
  • if the trader does not provide after-sales information or details of a complaints-handling policy, you need to find out who to complain to. Check the trader's website, the back of the receipt, the order form or the delivery note for details
  • depending on how a trader deals with complaints, you can write to an individual who has authority to deal with your complaint (it may be advisable to contact the trader and ask for the senior manager's name and job title). Check to make sure you are using the correct address. If you write directly to a branch, you can also send a copy of your letter or email to the head office
  • keep a copy of your letter / email
  • if you receive an email acknowledgement of your complaint, keep it
  • quote relevant order numbers, reference numbers and invoice numbers to make it easier for the trader to connect your complaint to the transaction
  • be specific and stick to the point. Genuine points of concern may get lost in a long, rambling email or letter
  • quote dates or events and all the relevant circumstances surrounding your complaint
  • if your letter is handwritten, ensure it is legible. Seek help if necessary
  • know what your rights are. It may be useful to inform the trader that you have sought legal advice
  • if possible, quote the law that you are making your claim under and make it clear what you are legally entitled to
  • be clear about what you want the trader to do to resolve your complaint
  • you may need to provide evidence to the trader to back up your complaint. This could be sending or emailing the trader copies of your documents¬†(receipt, emails and letters)¬†as well as anything else you think will prove your case, such as photographs and videos
  • do not send copies of bank / credit card statements due to the risk of identity theft. If you have to do this, then ensure ALL sensitive information is covered up
  • act quickly as a delay can sometimes affect what you are entitled to
  • give a reasonable time for the trader to respond to you - for example, 14 days
  • be persistent and write a reminder letter or email if you do not get a reply to your first one
  • copies of letters, emails and other documents are useful evidence if you refer your complaint to a trade association, regulatory body, use any other form of alternative dispute resolution or if you take action in court
  • if at any stage you need to check your legal rights, contact the Citizens Advice consumer service

Template letters

If you are unsure about what to write, then use the following templates (attached in Word format). They are written in a letter format but can easily be adapted to use as emails. Where you are given a choice of phrase or words to use, make sure you use the correct ones.

If you want to know what your legal rights are and which remedies you are entitled to the other consumer guides on this website provide detailed information. Some of them are referred to explicitly in the 'top tips' section of the templates.

Goods: non-delivery
Goods: price reduction or final right to reject
Goods: refund
Goods: repair or replacement
Services: carried out within a reasonable time
Services: legally binding information
Services: price reduction
Services: reasonable price to be paid
Services: repeat performance
Digital content: damage caused to device or other digital content
Digital content: price reduction
Digital content: right to supply (refund)
Digital content: repair or replacement
Off-premises sale: cancellation
Returning goods bought at a distance
Right to redress: right to damages
Right to redress: right to a discount
Right to redress: unwinding the contract
Building work repairs
Building work delays
Repairs to faulty double glazing
Flights: compensation for a delayed flight
Flights: compensation for a cancelled flight
Flights: compensation for denied boarding
Flights: reimbursement for being downgraded
Holiday complaint
Refund for faulty car
Repairs to faulty car
Unsatisfactory car repairs
Holding a finance company equally liable in a dispute with a trader
Asking a trader to consider a joint expert report
Letter before court action

Key legislation

  • There is no key legislation for this guide

Last reviewed / updated: November 2017

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website (opens in a new window) or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

© 2017 itsa Ltd.