We used to moan and grumble when something displeased us. Now we like to make official complaints
When a demanding American had the temerity to complain about shoddy service, Basil Fawlty consulted his equally long-suffering British guests. None dared confront him with their good causes for a moan. How things have changed since that Fawlty Towers classic was first broadcast in 1979. Unlike assertive Americans, the British were once grumblers, quietly moaning to each other rather than tackling the source of our dissatisfaction. Now, however, we have entered the golden age of the gripe.
Complaints rain in on every strata of society. In 2011, the Advertising Standards Authority recorded a 25% increase in complaints about UK advertising to a record 31,458, while during the 2011-12 financial year there was a 28% increase in new disputes before the Financial Ombudsman Service to 264,375. Other data reveals big rises in complaints about everything from private landlords in Yorkshire to, erm, the Guardian, which received a record 26,395 complaints in 2010/11. Complaints to this paper began in the first year of the Blair government (when we created the post of readers’ editor) and, oh dear, have risen every year since. Why? Is the Guardian – and society in general – getting worse? Or are things better, with organisations more accountable and open to complaint than in the past?
Our readiness to complain is probably raised by the current recession and suspicion of all kinds of elites, from government to bankers. But social media and relative affluence may help too – how awful is your life, really, if you found time to add your voice to the most complained about advert of all time: Kentucky Fried Chicken employees singing with their mouths full (the majority were apparently objecting to the fact it might encourage bad manners among children).
Stereotypically unassertive Brits find it easier to complain from the comfort of a keyboard; firing off an email is much quicker than writing a letter; and the visibility of other complaints on the internet also bolsters our righteous anger. Clever companies have swiftly grasped the art of diffusing consumer anger on Twitter. “Dear Sainsbury’s,” tweeted October Jones. “The chicken in my sandwich tastes like it was beaten to death by Hulk Hogan. Was it?” Sainsbury’s PR replied: “Really sorry it wasn’t up to scratch. We will replace Mr Hogan with Ultimate Warrior on our production line immediately.” As well as wit, it passed on a phone number to sort things out.
Are slick complaints machines just fobbing off our grievances? Or are we complaining more because it gets results? Evidence against includes the recent fact that more than 8,500 allegations of corruption were recorded by police in England and Wales, but only 13 police officers have been prosecuted and found guilty. This led to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to call for additional powers and resources. Of course it did: another effect of this golden age is that the complaints sector is booming. Want a job for life? Sign up to be a complaints bureaucrat. The BBC used to have quaint old Points of View; now it has a vast system. The Financial Ombudsman Service’s budget is rising by 60% to £191.1m to cope with the surge. Many of these are about payment protection insurance and many are submitted via burgeoning “claims management companies” – another sign that complaining is big business.
Our readers’ editor noticed a drop in complaints during May. Was this because Guardian journalists bucked up and learned how to spell? Or were people too busy having fun in the sun to moan? No one knows, but if you feel this story has simply asked questions without answering them, and you want to bring our figures back up, please send your complaints to our readers’ editor – it’s quiet at the moment.
How to complain
• Find the right person/organisation to complain to. The charity Citizen’s Advice can help.
• Keep calm, know your rights and keep in mind one clear aim: what do you want your complaint to achieve?
• Complaining in person, where relevant, can often be the quickest way to get results. But putting things in writing is often important. Moneysavingexpert recommends sending letters recorded delivery so you know they reach their target.
• Persevere. There’s always another avenue of appeal from The Guardian’s consumer experts to the courts.
Need a Loan? Visit Secured Loans Broker.
View full post on Free Secured Loans Advice