Ideally, a business would not like to give its customers any cause for complaint. In reality, there will be situations where customers do want to complain and a business needs to consider how it deals with these complaints and how it lets customers know what its policies and procedures are for resolving complaints.
Doing this successfully can ensure you comply with legal regulations, allow you to limit the damage to your business and could help you continuously improve the service you offer to customers in the future.
Do I have a legal requirement to have a Complaints Policy?
There is no legal requirement to have a Complaints Policy. However, there are various regulations in place to protect consumers in their dealings with businesses that do require information about “post-sales support” to be provided before a contract is made and once provided that information becomes a term of that contract.
That will include details of any Complaints Policy that a business has. In addition to the consumer regulations, there may also be specific requirements for a business to deal with complaints in a certain way.
Consumer regulations differ depending on how and where a contract is made (on-premises, in-store, online, telephone or other distance means for example) and there are also exceptions to the general regulations so specific legal advice should be taken on each circumstance. This article covers the general position.
It is an offence to provide misleading information in relation to post-sales support under consumer protection regulations so take care to ensure the information provided to your customers in any Complaints Policy is accurate.
There is also a specific requirement that a business providing a telephone helpline for customers cannot charge more than the basic rate for such calls.
What should a Complaints Policy include?
Regulations called the Provision of Service Regulations (or PSRs) apply in respect of the provision of most services to consumers and require customer complaints to be dealt with as quickly as possible and for businesses to use “best efforts” to resolve the issue. This should be considered when preparing your Complaints Policy if you provide services to consumers.
Government guidance suggests that it should be clear to a consumer who to contact and how to contact them (eg by giving an email address or telephone number) when making a complaint.
Depending on the size of your business you may have a dedicated email address and contact number or it may be sufficient to provide the contact details of the person in your business who is responsible for handling formal complaints.
Complaint handling and dispute resolution
Where there is a specific law or trade association rule that requires a business to offer Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services provided by a particular entity (regulated accountancy or travel firms for example), the name and website address of the ADR entity must be provided in any terms and conditions and website that the business has.
Even if there is no legal or industry requirement, businesses may choose to offer ADR services in their Complaints Policy and the Chartered Trading Standards Institute provides a list of approved ADR entities.
Given that many businesses will have an international element it is worth noting that following Brexit the consumer protection regulations in place in Europe may (and have already started to) differ from UK consumer rights. If you operate outside the UK you should consider the requirements of regulations in the countries that you carry do business in and incorporate them into your Complaints Policy.
Get legal assistance from LawBite
LawBite can help you prepare an appropriate Complaints Policy for your business and even has a free Complaint Policy template to help you get started. If you require further assistance with either reviewing your existing policy or drafting a new one, you can book a free 15minute consultation with one of our expert lawyers.