Revealed: Britain really is a nation of complainers

by Communications Team | Aug 12, 2015

  • Multi-country study reveals Britons are now more likely to complain about service than Americans
  • Retail and telecoms lead complaints league in Europe and US with consumers increasingly using social media to get companies’ attention
  • New service for UK consumer complaints* goes live today at www.consumer-ombudsman.org 

Contrary to the stereotype, Britons are now more likely to complain about products and services than Americans, according to new research.

There were more than 66 million complaints** about products and services in the UK last year, with British consumers complaining more than Americans in the past 12 months, according to the findings from Ombudsman Services***. In fact, when there is cause to complain, the UK consumer is more likely to do so than the American consumer (61% versus 50%).

The overall picture suggests that consumer activism is stronger than ever in Europe and the US and that technology is fuelling this with nearly a third  (31 per cent) of unhappy consumers using social media to escalate a problem.

The study also appears to debunk the stereotype that Britons are prepared to ‘grin and bear it’ although its authors warn that as many as 71 million problems are not acted upon every year, with many British customers still choosing to suffer in silence.

The level of complaints differs from industry to industry, with retail and telecoms leading the league in Europe and US.

To help address this, a new service launches today at www.consumer-ombudsman.org. Based on consumer interest, the new service will take all consumer complaints, with a focus on home maintenance, improvements or installation services and retail. The service will be delivered by Ombudsman Services, the UK’s leading provider of dispute resolution, which already operates government endorsed complaints schemes in energy, telecoms and property.

The new portal is launched to coincide with a new EU directive that asks all member states to make ombudsman or ADR schemes available in any consumer sector.

Lewis Shand Smith, Chief Ombudsman said: “We’re the biggest multi-sector ombudsman in the UK, handling more than 60 thousand complaints in the energy sector alone, so it’s natural for us to start to extend our services to new sectors, particularly as the UK and EU authorities have signaled that they want this to happen.

“We piloted this back in April when we opened up to retail complaints and this is beginning to take off so we’re inviting anyone who has a problem with a product or service to come to us. We’re pledging to do everything in our power to make companies address any complaint that comes in.”

Nick Boles, Business Minister said: “UK consumers are rightly becoming more confident in asserting their rights. I am pleased to see Ombudsman Services will be helping businesses and consumers in even more sectors to save both time and money by settling disputes out of court.”

Martin Lewis, founder and editor of MoneySavingExpert.com said: “A genuine ombudsman is a powerful force for consumers, easier and cheaper than the courts, and can look not just at the law but whether you’ve been treated fairly. In sectors where there isn’t an ombudsman we’ve seen companies deliberately reject complaints from people because it is cheaper than sorting it out, even though they know the complaint is fair. 

“This new service should help to introduce genuine change.  People facing faulty goods and shoddy service from too many companies have been left with the choice of paying to go to the small claims court or accepting whatever redress they are offered. 

“I'm therefore delighted to hear the consumer ombudsman is launching to fill this gap in the market. I just hope all companies who believe in treating their customers well sign up to it.”

*outside regulated utilities
**taken from Ombudsman Services Consumer Action Monitor (January 2015)
***Research conducted by PCP on behalf of Ombudsman Services, which questioned 1,858 people in total (between 308 and 310 for each of the six countries UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and USA). The survey ran from 27 May to 1 June 2015

ENDS