How to complain

Most complaints procedures have the same basic steps. Find out who to talk to and what to say.

Make an informal complaint

In some circumstances, making an informal complaint can solve your problem. You may be able to this in person, by telephone or online.

However, if this doesn't work, or your problem is a more serious one (for example you have been threatened or abused), you can consider making a formal complaint.

Make a formal complaint

Most organisations or companies have a formal complaints procedure. This is the system they use to deal with complaints. You should always use the complaints procedure if there is one. In many cases you cannot take any further action until you have done this.

Formal complaints should be dealt with promptly, but this could still take several weeks. The complaints procedure or the person investigating your complaint may explain how long an investigation should take. If no-one tells you, ask how long the process takes.

Complaints procedures vary, but you can expect the following steps.


Some complaints procedures require you to use a special form. For others, you can send a letter. 


Any investigation into your complaint should be carried out by someone who has not dealt with you or your home before. In larger organisations, they may be a 'customer care manager' or 'complaints officer'. The investigator may ask you for more information, ask questions of the person or people that you are complaining about and inspect your home or estate.

The investigator should send you a decision letter, which should:

  • tell you what decisions have been made. This may include, for example, a decision to do what you wanted done, and/or to pay you compensation
  • explain the reasons for the decision(s)
  • tell you what you can do if you are not satisfied with the decision(s)

Appeal or further decision

A simple complaints procedure does not usually allow you to complain further. If you are not happy with the decision and want to take it further, you may be able to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to settle your dispute without going to court.

Find out more from AdviceGuide about using ADR.

The organisation or company you are complaining to may have a more advanced complaints procedures. This allows you to appeal or to take your complaint to a more senior person, a professional organisation or to an ombudsman. You should usually take your complaint as far as you can before you use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or consider going to court

Find out more from AdviceGuide about going to court.

What to say when you complain

When you fill in a complaint form, or when you write a letter, you should:

  • make it clear that you are complaining. You can write 'complaint' at the top of your letter
  • make it clear what you are complaining about
  • state clearly what you would like done about the problem
  • take your time, and write out your complaint carefully. Write it out in rough first, before doing your final version.
  • type it or write it neatly in black pen
  • give necessary detail. Give your name and address, and information about what has happened, for example dates, names of people if you know them, and reference numbers or codes
  • not include irrelevant facts or comments
  • if you are claiming money, make it clear what the money is for. Be realistic about how much you can claim
  • be polite, and avoid sarcasm and rude comments
  • be honest and don't exaggerate. Don't make guesses about things you are not sure of
  • date your letter or form
  • keep a copy

Send copies of anything that is relevant to support your complaint. Don't send anything that the organisation already has or that isn't relevant. For example, you don't need to send your landlord a copy of your tenancy agreement. Only send photocopies and not originals.

Think about letting a friend read your complaint before you send it. Get more help and information from the organisation's complaint leaflet or website, a professional organisation or ombudsman if there is one, or from Citizens Advice or another advice agency

Keep track of your complaint

If you send your letter or form by post, take a note of when it was posted. You could also send your complaint by recorded delivery.

Within about two weeks, you should receive a letter, card or email acknowledging receipt of your complaint. If you don't receive anything, telephone or write to check that it has been received. If necessary, send a second copy. Always keep a copy yourself.

Get advice if your complaint is ignored. Use Shelter's directory to find a local advice centre.

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