How to complain

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

Informal v formal complaints

You can complain about a person or an organisation if they have done something wrong or badly, not done something which they should have done or treated you badly, for example by being rude.

Often the quickest and easiest way to resolve simple problems is by making an informal complaint to your council, housing association, private landlord, lettings agent, freeholder or mortgage lender.

You can do this in person, by telephone or online. 

But for many housing problems of serious nature, you'll need to make a formal complaint. Social landlords and lettings agents should all have a formal complaints procedure. You should always use the complaints procedure if there is one. 

What a complaint should contain

When you fill in a complaint form or write a letter, state clearly:

  • that you are complaining
  • what you are complaining about
  • what you would like done about the problem

You can write 'Complaint' at the top of your letter or as a heading in a form.

Send copies of anything that is relevant to support your complaint. Only send photocopies and not originals. There's no need to send anything that your landlord has already has or that isn't relevant. For example, a copy of your tenancy agreement.

Details to include

Provide these details:

  • the date
  • your name and address
  • any reference number
  • information about what has happened and relevant dates

Get more help and information about making a complaint from the organisation's complaint leaflet or website, a professional organisation or ombudsman if there is one.

How to keep track of a complaint

If you send your letter or form by post, use recorded delivery or ask the Post Office for a proof of posting form. Always keep a copy yourself.

You should receive a letter, card or email acknowledging receipt of your complaint. If you don't receive anything, phone or write to check that it has been received.

If necessary, send a second copy.

How long complaints take

Formal complaints should be dealt with promptly. This could 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.

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

Steps in a formal complaint

1. Complaint

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

2. Investigation

Any investigation into your complaint should be carried out by someone who has not dealt with you before. An investigator or complaints officer may ask you for more information, ask questions of the person or people that you are complaining about and inspect your home or estate.

3. Decision

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

  • what decisions have been made
  • the reasons for the decision
  • what you can do if you are not satisfied with the decisio

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.

4. Appeal 

Your landlord may have a more advanced complaints procedure which allows you to appeal or to take your complaint to a more senior person, a professional organisation or to an ombudsman. 

5. Court action

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 you can complain about

There are no set rules about what you can make a complaint about.

You can complain about a failure to:

  • carry out repairs
  • keep proper records (for example, of rent payments)
  • respond to your letters or provide information you have asked for

You can complain about:

  • rude or abusive behaviour
  • unreasonable delays
  • lost documents

When a complaint is not appropriate

Making a complaint might not always be your best option. It may be better to challenge certain legal issues in other ways. For example, you can:

Get in touch with a local advice centre if you are not sure that making a complaint is your best option.

Use Shelter's directory to find an adviser in your area.

Find out more about making a complaint

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