Complaints up to 5.3 million as Scottish consumers vote with their feet

by The communications team | May 03, 2017


  • Residents of North East Scotland lead the charge, making a quarter (25%) of total complaints
  • 8.1 million complaints were ignored due to apathy and disillusionment with companies
  • A fifth (20%) of consumers have reduced their spend or taken their custom elsewhere (22%) as a result of poor service, at a cost of £3.2 billion to companies

Scottish consumers made 5.3 million complaints last year, up 4 per cent, as a third (36%) say they’re more likely to take action against poor service.

According to Ombudsman Services’ third annual Consumer Action Monitor – Scotland, retail was the most complained about sector, responsible for more than a quarter (27%) of total complaints, followed by Telecoms (14%) and Energy (12%). Transport also moved ahead of banking to take the fourth spot, with 10 per cent of complaints.

Regionally, consumers in North East Scotland were the most active when it came to complaining last year, making a quarter (25%) of total complaints – an average of 2.01 complaints per person. In contrast, those in the South of Scotland only raised an average of 0.69 complaints each.

 Region                         Number of
complaints made    
per head    
Number of 
issues ignored  
per head  
 Scotland (all)   5,344,776  1.30  8,104,505  1.98
 Central Scotland  1,039,230  1.57  1,568,774  2.37
 Glasgow 703,455   1.18  1,353,256  2.27
 Highlands & Islands  256,878 0.71  1,031,131  2.85
 Lothians 595,984   0.96  1,229,216  1.98
 Mid Scotland & Fife  513,921  1.25  851,053  2.07
 North East Scotland 1,313,951   2.01  902,116  1.38
 South of Scotland 221,274  0.69  147,516  0.46
 West of Scotland 363,856  0.75  591,872  1.22

Despite Scots making more complaints this year, the number of issues that were ignored climbed by 31 per cent to 8.1 million issues – the equivalent of 2 problems per person – as consumers admit to apathy and disillusionment with business. This issue is particularly prevalent in Highlands & Islands, as residents there swept 2.85 issues each under the rug.

While a quarter (24%) of those in Scotland say they can’t be bothered to complain, more than two thirds (69%) of people are resigned to poor service in at least one sector, which has led to growing disillusionment with the businesses themselves.

Lack of trust in businesses to put things right is one of the key factors discouraging consumers from raising their issues. A fifth (19%) of residents say they have complained to a business in the past, but nothing was done about their issue, while a third (32%) believe you can only get a result from a complaint if you kick up a big fuss.

Instead of complaining, it seems that consumers are voting with their feet. A fifth (22%) of Scots have taken their custom elsewhere and a similar amount (20%) have reduced spend as a result of bad service, at an estimated cost of £3.2 billion to companies across Britain last year.

The cost of poorly handled complaints is steep, but a well-handled complaint can improve customer retention. Three quarters (73%) of Scots say they would be likely to return to a company that handled a complaint well, while just one in 10 (10%) said they would return if their complaint was handled poorly.

Lewis Shand Smith, Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services said: “Scots are showing good awareness of their consumer rights, but this research shows that a lot more needs to be done to encourage disgruntled customers to make their voices heard.

“Even though businesses are taking steps to improve their customer service, many consumers feel disillusioned and no longer trust them to do the right thing. This research has shown that Scots aren’t afraid to vote with their feet, so it is in businesses’ best interests to put customers at the heart of what they do, or face the costly consequences.’’

If you still haven’t reached a conclusion with your company after eight weeks, you can bring your Energy and Telecoms complaints to Ombudsman Services, who will resolve them for free and provide a legally binding solution.


Research methodology

Ombudsman Services commissioned ICM Research to carry out a nationally representative survey of adults aged 18+. A total of 2,477 people were questioned throughout Great Britain (excl. Northern Ireland), with representative quotas for gender age, region, social grade, work status and tenure. The Scottish sample size was 583. The research was conducted between 4 and 6 January 2017.