15th February 2016
There were a massive 52m complaints about products and services last year according to new research from Ombudsman Services.
But while the Consumer Action Monitor found that although people said they are less likely to put up with poor service from a company this year, a huge 66m problems were never acted upon.
More than twice as many complaints are now taken through ‘ombudsmen’ than small claims court.
The study found 9% of people with complaints about products and services take them to one of the many ombudsman schemes now operating in the UK, in contrast to 4% who went through small claims court.
A hike of up to 81% to small claims court fees in early 2014 has made it more expensive for consumers to seek redress, which has seen use of non-judicial routes like ombudsmen and mediation schemes increase by six percentage points – the equivalent of 3.6m more complaints a year.
Cost and the complexity of courts present significant barrier
The annual index revealed 20% of consumers who thought about taking a complaint to court decided against it because they found the legal system confusing.
But nearly two fifths, at 37%, changed their mind because they thought it would be too costly.
Continued growth of social media offers a new way for consumers to seek justice, with the proportion of complaints raised on sites like Facebook and Twitter increasing to 36%, up 5% from a year ago – more than 18m complaints in total8.
Despite growing activism on social media, the perceived effort of making a complaint puts consumers off getting an issue solved.
Of those who did not take their complaint to the supplier or a third party, almost half, at 45% said it was too much hassle and 28% admitted they could not be bothered.
Almost a quarter of complaints, at 23%, related to issues with retailers, with faulty products the most common cause of dissatisfaction amongst consumers.
The next most problematic sectors were telecommunications, at 16%, and energy, with 13%. Each of these sectors is covered by ombudsmen, which provide a free, quick and simple way to reach a resolution, but 6% didn’t realise there was an alternative to court action available.
When it comes to redress, consumers just want the service they paid for, with 75% saying when they complain they want the problem to be put right.
A little humility on the part of the company can also go a long way, with half, at 48%, of people saying they would be happy with an apology. Less than a third at 31% of people said they expect financial compensation.
Commenting on the findings, Chief Ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: “We’re still seeing consumers ignore millions of problems each year because they’d rather suffer in silence than go through the perceived hassle of complaining – but it’s not as complex and time-consuming as they might think.
“At a time when it is becoming more expensive to take court action, alternative dispute resolution, including ombudsmen, is an important and growing part of the civil justice system as a whole.
“Improving access to justice for consumers has been high on the public agenda this year, with the introduction of a new EU directive and the Consumer Rights Act, but there’s still more that can be done.
“Forward-thinking companies are starting to sign up to alternative dispute resolution services, which are free for their customers – with the continued increase of social media, a poorly handled complaint could significantly damage both their brand and reputation.”