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The Right Way to Complain

In the UK, we have a legal right to lodge a complaint against our landlord if the service they provide is not up to scratch.

Issues we can complain to our landlord about include failure to carry out repairs they’re responsible for, harassment and discrimination.

To help tenants in the complaints process, we’ve put together the following pointers on how to do it constructively. Although these steps are based around complaining to a landlord, they are basic principles that cover all complaints procedures.

Following each step should give you the best chance of getting what you want (and are entitled to):

Know your rights

As a tenant you have legal rights. It can seem like the law is stacked against you, but tenants do have hard-won rights and can expect certain things from landlords. These include being free from harassment and discrimination, and living in a safe, habitable home. Speak to Citizens Advice as a first port of call if you are having a problem with your landlord. They offer free, impartial and confidential advice on your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Once you’re aware of your rights, move on to the next step…  

Speak to your landlord (when possible)

In order to try and keep things civil, and go about things the correct way, always try and talk to your landlord first. This can be face to face, over the phone or by email. If meeting face to face, it’s a good idea to take someone along with you, for support. The contact details for your landlord will be on your tenancy agreement or rent book.

Before you have a conversation with your landlord, it’s a good idea to write down what you want to say. Refer to what you’ve written down during the conversation to be sure to ask what you need to. If speaking to your landlord doesn’t work, it’s time to move onto the next stage of the complaints process…

Make a formal complaint  

Formal complaints need to be in written form. Make the letter as clear and neutral as possible. We’re all human beings who get emotional when we’ve received a poor service or been mistreated. However, to make the most of our chances of getting what we want, we have to stay professional in these situations.

The complaint letter should include:

  • What the complaint is about.
  • The date and time the problem happened.
  • What you want them to do about the problem.
  • What has been said when you spoke to the landlord.
  • Also include any photos of damage to the property you’re asking the landlord to fix, receipts for any costs you’ve incurred due to the problem and, if applicable a doctor’s note (if the problem has affected your health – for eg: through damp)

If this doesn’t settle things, the next step is to…

Complain to your local authority

Your local authority can get involved in the complaint and make sure your landlord is respecting your rights as a tenant. Again, you’ll need to get everything in writing. In the letter (or email), tell the council the nature of the problem. Also, include a copy of the formal complaint letter and any other communication between yourself and the landlord.

The council may be able to help with illegal eviction, repairs that risk your health and safety, and harassment from your landlord.

At this point, if you haven’t already, it’s crucial to speak to Citizens Advice to get some help and advice on moving things on.

Although the above pointers are based around complaining to landlords, the principles are the same for most complaints procedures.

The general rules of thumb are:

  • Know your rights as a tenant, consumer and employee – ask Citizens Advice if you are uncertain.
  • If possible, speak first to try and resolve a complaint informally.
  • If that is unsuccessful, make a formal written complaint.
  • Always keep a record of correspondence.
  • If the formal complaint is unsuccessful, move on to either: your local authority (if it relates to your landlord), or an ombudsman (an official complaint handling body; there is an ombudsman for most industries, from energy providers to retail).

For loads more info on how to complain constructively, check out this guide at Money Saving Expert.

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