- 52 million complaints about products and services were made last year
- Fee increase sees consumers seek redress through non-judicial routes
- Complaints taken to ombudsman schemes more than double those taken to small claims court
There were 52 million complaints about products and services last year(1), according to new research from Ombudsman Services.
However, the third annual Consumer Action Monitor – the most comprehensive multi-sector survey of its kind in the UK – finds that although people say they are less likely to put up with poor service from a company this year than last year(2), 66 million problems still weren’t acted upon(3).
More than twice as many complaints are now taken through ‘ombudsmen’ than small claims court(4) with nearly one in ten (9%) people with complaints about products and services taking them to one of the many ombudsman schemes now operating in the UK, in contrast to less than one in 20 (4%) who went through small claims court.
A hike of up to 81 per cent to small claims court fees in early 2014(5) 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(6) – the equivalent of 3.6 million more complaints a year(7).
Cost and the complexity of going through the courts present significant barriers to consumers. The annual index reveals one in five consumers (20%) who thought about taking a complaint to court decided against it because they found the legal system confusing, but nearly two fifths (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 per cent, up five per cent from a year ago – more than 18 million complaints in total(8).
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, more than two fifths (45%) saying it was too much hassle and over a quarter (28%) saying they could not be bothered.
A quarter of complaints (23%) related to issues with retailers, with faulty products the most common cause of dissatisfaction amongst consumers. The next most problematic sectors were telecommunications (16%) and energy (13%). Each of these sectors is covered by ombudsmen, which provide a free, quick and simple way to reach a resolution, but one in twenty people (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 three quarters (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 (48%) of people saying they’d be happy with an apology. Less than a third (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.”
(1) This refers to ‘actioned’ complaints, which are those that were taken to the supplier, shared on social media and/or escalated to a third party.
(1.1) complaints per person were ‘actioned’ - this multiplied by the adult population of the UK (47.5 million) gives a total of 52 million ‘actioned’ complaints
(2) 82% of consumers said they were unlikely to put up with poor service from a company, in comparison to 80% of consumers last year
(3) There were 1.4 problems per person that nothing was done about – this multiplied by the adult population of the UK (47.5 milion) gives a total of 66 million complaints that were ignored
(4) 9.3% of complaints were taken to an ombudsman, in contrast to 3.7% of complaints that were taken to small claims court
(5) According to The Daily Telegraph (11 April 2014), the charges to fees for small claims court increased by up to 81 per cent on 22 April 2014
(6) In 2013, 3.4% of complaints were taken to ombudsmen, increasing to 9.3% in 2015 – an increase of 6 percentage points.
(7) In 2013 there were 38 million complaints, and 3.4%of these complaints were taken to an ombudsman or other mediation service – or 1.29 million complaints. In 2015 there were 52 million complaints and 9.3% were taken to an ombudsman or other mediation service – or 4.84 million complaints. The difference between 2013 and 2015 is therefore 3.55 million complaints a year (4.84-1.29)
(8) 36% of people complained on social media, this as a percentage of total complaints ‘actioned’ is 18.72 million
For the 2016 Consumer Action Monitor, Ombudsman Services commissioned ICM research to carry out a nationally representative survey of adults aged 18+. A total of 2,355 people were questioned throughout Great Britain (excl. Northern Ireland), with representative quotas for gender age, region, social grade, work status and tenure all accounted for. The research was conducted between 22 and 25 January 2016.
About Ombudsman Services
- Ombudsman Services is a not for profit, private company limited by guarantee.
- Ombudsman Services runs national, private sector ombudsman schemes which provide independent dispute resolution for the communications, energy, property, copyright licensing sectors, the Green Deal, the ABFA, Reallymoving.com and Which? Trusted Traders scheme.
- Ombudsman Services provides an expert dispute resolution service. The service focuses on encouraging early-agreed resolution wherever possible and does not charge a fee so it’s able to offer access to redress for consumers to resolve their complaints without proceeding to the civil courts.
- Ombudsman Services is a full member of the Ombudsman Association (OA) and adheres to its principles.
- Further information about Ombudsman Services can be found at www.ombudsman-services.org