How to complain about goods and services in Ireland

And if you don’t like it, then don’t come complaining to us . . .

It is always better to come across as a reasonable person who has been wronged, instead of an unreasonable person who is wrong. Photograph: iStock

It is always better to come across as a reasonable person who has been wronged, instead of an unreasonable person who is wrong. Photograph: iStock

 

In Ireland, we’re not great when it comes to complaining. The Americans, the Germans and the Chinese and almost every other nationality you care to name have their complaining patter down pat, and can turn on the righteous indignation in a heartbeat.

But we Irish are pretty awful at it.

There are many reasons. Sometimes we are just too polite.We smile and mumble sweet nothings when waiters ask if the food is okay; the same food we were giving out about to our friends seconds earlier.

Sometimes we develop an irrational fear of confrontation and dread “making a scene”. So instead, we allow snooty shop assistants and the like to walk all over us when we have the temerity to raise the tiniest of objections concerning the level of service or the quality of a product offered.

On other occasions, we get irrationally annoyed and scream and shout at those on the frontline of the customer service trenches and reduce the lowest-paid and the least-empowered to tears with our ranting and raving.

And then there are those times when we complain vociferously about something when we are completely and utterly in the wrong.

So we thought we’d put together a guide to complaining. And if you don’t like it, well, don’t come complaining to us.

1 When it comes to effective giving out, it is absolutely essential that you know your rights. And know the rights you don’t have. All too often we hear from consumers complaining about retailers who refuse to sell them a product for the much lower price it was erroneously marked at on the shelf. The thing is, retailers are not obliged to do that. Until money changes hands there is no contract in place, so if they spot a pricing error before you actually buy a product they are perfectly entitled to demand you pay the higher price.

2That is, once it is a genuine error. If there is a pattern of misleading pricing in a shop, it may be breaking the law.

3 You do not have the automatic right to a refund or a replacement if a product turns out to be faulty or flawed in some way. A provider can instead offer to repair it. And if it breaks again, they can offer to repair it again. They can’t keep doing it forever but they can repair something two or three times before they have to consider either a refund or a replacement.

4If you pay a deposit for something and then change your mind, do not automatically assume a provider will give you your money back. They might. But they might not. It depends on the terms and conditions.

5 If you get a replacement product under warranty, the warranty clock is not reset to zero. So if your laptop breaks after 10 months and you get a new one, do not be surprised if the manufacturer tells you the new laptop has a warranty of only two months.

6 If you are going to make a complaint, it is always worth looking up your consumer rights under the law. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s website consumerhelp.ie has extensive information on this, in the “Your rights” section. You can also call its LoCall Helpline 1890-432432 if you have a question about your rights.

7 If you are calling the commission from a mobile phone do not, under any circumstances, call its LoCall number. It will cost you an absolute fortune if you are on the line for any length of time. If you need to make contact with the organisation using a mobile phone, call 01-4025555. It will save you money.

8 On the topic of phone numbers, do not call any 1890 or 1850 numbers from your mobile phone if you are making a complaint. Find a landline number for the place instead. You can google landline contact numbers for many companies or check out the website saynoto1890.com, which has put in much of the legwork for you already.

9 Remember if you buy a product in a shop you have no rights under consumer law if the product is not faulty or if you have simply changed your mind. There is no point screaming and shouting in a shop if they won’t entertain your pleas for a refund or a swap of that ridiculous leopard-print top you bought while drunk and have now, wisely, decided you will never wear.

10 A shop does not have to entertain you if a problem develops as a direct result of something stupid and/or unfortunate you have done to the item you purchased. So if you drop your phone in the loo while posting something particularly hilarious on Snapchat, don’t expect to be given a replacement. Similarly, if a fault is pointed out to you at the time of purchase and you go ahead with the purchase, you have no right to a refund.

11 When getting ready to complain about anything, it is always a good idea to read the terms and conditions first: knowledge is power, after all. Yes, the terms and conditions can be set out in a manner that will send you to sleep faster than a bottle of Valium and we are well aware that many providers do their best to hide sneaky get-out clauses in language more arcane than Beowulf, but if you want to make a complaint you need to make sure they can’t throw the “oh, it’s in the terms and conditions” line at you. Or at least if they do, you need to be ready for it.

A handy way to scan the T&Cs for the issue you have is to copy the whole thing into a Word document and use Ctrl-F to look for key words you think might be relevant.

12 You are most likely to win at complaining if you set yourself clear goals before you start. So you should always have an idea of what it is you want before you start screaming the place down. Work out whether you want a refund or will be happy with a repair. Decide if you want compensation or will be happy with an apology. There is no point making it up as you go along.

13 But be flexible. And always be polite. Aggressive people rarely win arguments and they rarely get much by way of compensation. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, as the saying goes. And apart from that, do you really want to be the person who shouts at some poor unfortunate working for minimum wage in some miserable call centre?

14 If you have something to complain about, make sure you act quickly. If you buy something that is clearly not fit for purpose, or is not as advertised, and you don’t return it for months, your case will be weakened significantly. Similarly, if you complain about the steak you ordered after you have eaten 80 per cent of it, a waiter will be perfectly entitled to arch an eyebrow.

15 And remember, when it comes to certain things, there is a statute of limitations on a complaint. If, for example, you are making a complaint about a package holiday that went awry, you have to do it within 28 days of returning home.

16 Always go to the effort of finding out to whom you should direct your complaint. If possible you should first make contact with the person you dealt with in the first place or a company’s customer care department.

17 If things are going badly when you are on the phone to a customer care centre, ask to speak to a manager or a supervisor. Yes, we know that almost inevitably you will be told that there is no one available, but you should at least ask. Request the name of the person you are speaking to. Ask whether the call is being recorded.

18 Stay calm. Always stay calm.

19If your phone calls are falling on deaf ears, you may have no choice but to put it in writing. Make sure this is written in a concise and polite fashion. Do not scribble a ranty note in green ink. It will be ignored.

20 It has never been easier to make a complaint in a very public way using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever social media platform you are fond of using yourself. But remember to be polite. These platforms are populated with enough trolls already. You don’t want to be another one.

21 When it comes to sharing personal details on such platforms such as the above, mind yourself and limit the amount of information you put into the public domain.

22 Good record-keeping is essential when it comes to complaining. So keep notes of what happened and when it happened. Write a quick timeline of your grievances – or at least the serious ones. If you are complaining about the milk you bought being sour that one time, such a timeline is probably not necessary. But for serious issues record the sequence of events and include dates and times of phone calls or other conversations. Write down who you spoke to and what was said.

23 While we have said a number of times that you should be polite, that does not mean you should be a pushover. Polite but firm is the order of the day. You may be raging but once you start frothing at the mouth – or even shouting – you have kind of lost. It is always better to come across as a reasonable person who has been wronged instead of an unreasonable one who is wrong.

24 Do not allow yourself to be fobbed off by a shop assistant who says you are to blame for whatever has gone wrong. Some 19-year-old who works in a phone shop is not qualified to tell you your iPhone has suffered water damage because you dropped it in the loo, even if that is true. They have to send the product off to be properly assessed.

25 If you are going around in circles trying to get a problem resolved, you will have to make a formal complaint in writing. Make sure the letter is sent to the right person or department. Ask for the name and address of the most senior person you can contact who deals with written complaints. You might also be able to uncover this information using the Great Oracle. Or Google, as it is sometimes called.

26 When you are sending a letter of complaint, please, please, please type it if at all possible. And don’t ramble. And if you send supporting documentation make sure you send copies: you might need the originals at a later date. Set out the history of your case, who you spoke to, explain what the problem is. And what you would like to see done.

27 Include a reasonable timescale for a problem to be resolved and make it clear what will happen if the problem is not resolved – the Small Claims Court, a letter to Pricewatch, a call to Joe Duffy – whatever you think will have the most impact.

28 Send the letter by registered post. It will cost a bit more but it means there is a paper trail. And companies hate a paper trail.

29 Some services are covered by an ombudsman or regulator. Find out if yours is. There is a Financial Services Ombudsman, a Pensions Ombudsman, a taxi regulator and ComReg, for starters. But remember they can rarely be your starting point, and you will have to exhaust the complaints procedure for that sector and deal with the company before they will entertain you.

30 Some organisations sound like they have more clout than they actually have. The Consumers’ Association of Ireland, for example, is great when it comes to advice, but do not expect it to fight your corner. It doesn’t have the resources. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, similarly, does not take on individual cases. Ring it for advice, by all means, but there is little point using the commission as a bargaining chip when dealing with terrible traders.

31 The Small Claims procedure, on the other hand, does have clout. It is a cheap, fast and relatively simple way to resolve some types of disputes without having to use a solicitor. The application fee is €25, which is non-refundable, and the service is provided in your local District Court office. You can use the Small Claims procedure if your claim is for €2,000 or less, but only certain claims will be entertained.

It doesn’t handle debts, personal injuries or breaches of leasing agreements. Nor does it deal with most claims about rental properties.

32 If you believe you have been wronged, you can always get in touch with us. We can’t deal with every complaint we receive, but we do our best to get to as many as we can. So email pricewatch@irishtimes.com or write to Pricewatch, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 02 CX89.

But if you do get in touch, please, please, please don’t include massive email attachments or incredibly long and detailed stories with reams of accompanying documentation. We will never be able to wade through it all.

Sample letter: Dear Sir or Madam, I am finally getting around to doing something about this. Yours etc

When writing a letter of complaint it can be hard to get started. The consumerconnect.ie website has some template letters that may be useful. This is one such example, but there are others and it is worth checking the site.

Date (of sending letter – day/month/year)

Name of owner/manager of shop/business

Full address of owner/shop/business

Dear (insert owner/manager’s name or Sir/Madam)

On (insert date of purchase) I bought (description of the product, include model or serial number or any other details making it identifiable to the company).

I attach a copy of my receipt for your information.

I am writing to you because (outline the problem, for example)

The product is faulty and no longer works and/or

The product does not do what it is supposed to do and/or

The product is not as described.

On (insert date) I rang and spoke to (insert name of person you spoke to) but (insert outcome here, for example “I have heard nothing further since”).

According to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s website consumerhelp.ie, goods purchased from a shop or retailer should be:

Of acceptable quality

As described

Fit for its purpose

Corresponding to sample

Under consumer law , my contract is with the seller of the goods and as such I am writing to you to seek (state what you want the supplier to do, eg offer a repair, replacement or a refund).

I would appreciate your response within 10 working days. If you wish to discuss this further, I am contactable by telephone/email at (insert daytime number/email address – optional).

Yours sincerely,

______________________ (Signature)

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