Solve an ongoing consumer problem with a business seller - Citizens Advice
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Solve an ongoing consumer problem with a business seller

This advice applies to England

There are steps you can take if you’ve approached a business seller about a problem with a product or service and you’re not getting anywhere.

You must follow step 1 before you do anything else.

Step 1 - make a formal complaint

Before contacting the seller, check if they have an official complaints procedure. You can usually find a seller’s complaints procedure on their website - make sure you follow it when you complain.

It’s best to email or write to the seller - you can use a template letter.

If you paid with a credit card or debit card

You should send a copy of your complaint letter to the seller that issued your card. This will help if you decide to make a ‘section 75’ or ‘chargeback’ claim later on.

If your purchase was financed by hire purchase or conditional sale

You need to write to the finance company - not the seller. Check your paperwork if you're not sure what type of finance you have.

Make sure you keep a copy of anything you send, in case you need to check it later.

If you’re not happy with the response

You should ask the seller for a final response (sometimes called a ‘letter of deadlock’), which will confirm that they haven’t been able to resolve your complaint.

A final response is proof that you’ve already tried making a formal complaint - you’ll need it if you try other ways to sort out the problem.

Step 2 - check if the seller belongs to a trade association

If the seller is a member of a trade association, they might have to follow certain rules. If they've broken the rules, you could get help from the trade association to take your complaint further.

Look on the seller’s website to find out if they’re a member of a trade association - or contact them if you can’t find anything.

Get in touch with the trade association, explain your situation and ask if they can advise you on what to do next.

Step 3 - ask your card provider or PayPal to help

You might be able to get your money back if you paid by card or PayPal.

If you haven’t already sent your card provider or PayPal a copy of your complaint letter to the company, send one now - and let them know what response you’ve had.

Step 4 - check if you can use 'alternative dispute resolution' (ADR)

Some sellers belong to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme, which means they offer a way to solve your problem without going to court.

If you use ADR a person or an organisation will either:

  • try to help you and the seller come to an agreement - this is sometimes called ‘mediation’ or ‘conciliation’

  • look at the evidence and make a decision about your complaint - this is usually done by an arbitrator, adjudicator or ombudsman

If you're thinking of taking a seller to court, you should try using ADR first - a judge will usually expect you to have done this.

If you’ve already been through a complaints process with a trade association you should find out if it was ADR. You can’t usually use ADR more than once, but it’s worth checking the scheme’s terms and conditions to make sure.

If you bought online, through social media or in response to a text message

You should be able to use the EU Online Dispute Resolution Platform (ODR Platform), which is an online version of ADR.

You should follow the advice for ‘if you didn’t buy online’ if you’d rather not use the ODR Platform.

Using the ODR Platform

You’ll need to answer a few quick questions and fill in a form. Put the name of the seller you bought your product from, not the manufacturer.

If you need help using the ODR platform contact the national contact point.

National contact point
Telephone: 03456 089579 or 01268 582225
Email: odr@tsi.org.uk

If the seller says no or doesn’t reply

You can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service instead of using ODR if  you paid in one of these ways:

  • by credit card or debit card
  • using Paypal
  • using a mobile payment service, for example Apple Pay
  • through a finance agreement

If you bought in person from a shop, market or dealership - or by mail order

You should be able to find out if the seller has an ADR scheme by checking their:

  • website - try searching for ‘dispute resolution’ or ‘complaints procedure’
  • ‘terms and conditions’, either on their website or in any emails or paperwork they’ve sent you

If you can’t see anything about ADR, look for phrases like ‘what to do if you’re still unhappy’ or ‘escalating your complaint’. If it says your complaint will be passed on to another organisation, it’s likely to be an ADR scheme.

Contact the seller if you’re still not sure - you should find contact details on their website.

Keep a record of any contact you have with the seller about using ADR - you’ll need it if you end up taking your case to court.  

Send your complaint to the seller’s ADR scheme

The first thing you should do is check the scheme’s rules on its website. Make sure you’ve followed all the rules before you send your complaint.

Send your complaint to the ADR scheme by post or through its website, along with any supporting documents like letters or photos.

Once you’ve sent your complaint, the ADR scheme has to deal with your case within 90 days. If they can’t take on your complaint they have to let you know within 3 weeks.

If the seller doesn’t have an ADR scheme

Ask them if they’d be willing to use ADR - if they are they should find a scheme and let you know how to contact it.

You can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service instead of using ADR if the seller says no (or they don’t reply) and you paid in one of these ways:

  • by credit card or debit card
  • using Paypal
  • using a mobile payment service, for example Apple Pay
  • through a finance agreement

Step 5 - make a court claim

You can make a claim to the court if your problem hasn’t been resolved - this is sometimes called making a ‘small claim’.

Going to court can be stressful and time consuming - it’s probably only worth doing this if the item was particularly expensive.

Read more about making a small claim.

Get more help

Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline if you need more help - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone or by email.

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