How to complain

Most complaints procedures have the same basic steps.

Making an informal complaint

You can complain about a person or an organisation for poor service, or for mistakes that affect you.  

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

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

Keep a note of what you said and who you spoke to you if you ring (you may need this if you have to make a formal complaint).

Check that you are complaining to the right person or organisation. Responsibilities vary.

Making a formal complaint

You may need to make a formal complaint for housing problems such as a landlord’s 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 also complain about:

  • rude or abusive behaviour by staff

  • unreasonable delays

  • lost documents

Social landlords and lettings agents should have a formal complaints procedure.  Always use this complaints procedure if there is one.

What to include when you complain

For some complaints procedures you must use a special form. 

For others, you can send a letter or email.

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

  • that you are complaining

  • what you are complaining about

  • what you would like done about the problem

Write 'Complaint' at the top of your letter or as a heading in a form.

Send or attach copies of any information that supports your complaint. Only send photocopies. Don’t send originals.

You don’t need to send information that your landlord already has or that isn't relevant - for example, a copy of your tenancy agreement.

Details to include

You must include:

  • the date

  • your name and address

  • any reference number

  • information about what has happened and relevant dates

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

Find out how to complain about banks or lenders and request compensation.

How to keep track of a complaint

If you send your complaint by post, use recorded delivery or ask the Post Office for a proof of posting form.

Always keep a copy of your complaint.

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

How long complaints take

Formal complaints should be dealt with promptly, but can still take several weeks.

The complaints procedure or the person investigating your complaint should say how long an investigation will take. 

Ask how long the process takes if no-one tells you.

Any investigation into your complaint should be carried out by someone who was not involved with what you’re complaining about.

This person is the investigator.

An investigator may ask you for more information, contact the person or people you are complaining about with questions and inspect your home or estate.

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


The investigator should send you a decision letter which says:

  • what decisions have been made

  • the reasons for the decision

  • what you can do if you are not satisfied with the decision

A simple complaints procedure does not usually allow you to complain further.

If you are not happy with the decision, you may be able to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to settle your dispute without going to court.


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

Court action

Taking your landlord to court can be an option, but should be a last resort.  

Legal aid can help people on a low income with some types of legal action. Get advice to check out your options

When a complaint is not appropriate

Making a complaint might not always be your best option. 

Certain legal decisions can be challenged in specific 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

Read more about complaining to:

If you rent privately find out how to complain about a:

Last updated: 30 January 2019

If you need to talk to someone, we'll do our best to help

Get help