Scottish consumers complain every 18 seconds

Energy was the most complained-about issue, according to the study. Picture: Getty
Energy was the most complained-about issue, according to the study. Picture: Getty
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A CONSUMER complaint is made in Scotland every 18 seconds according to a new report which found that householders are far more likely to take action over problems relating to issues such as energy and retail than they would have been 12 months ago.

The first Consumer Action Monitor, published by the British Ombudsman Service, found that firms handled a total of 1.8 million complaints from Scots in 2013 – one for almost every two adults in the country.

Energy, which has become a major bugbear for many householders as utility bills soar amid rising profits for major gas and electricity firms, was the most complained-about issue, according to the study, followed by retail, internet telecoms, transport and holidays.

Almost a third of those surveyed said that they are more likely to complain about poor service now than they were a year ago.

Across the whole of Britain, 38 million complaints were addressed by UK companies.

However, the report reveals that many firms who have a problem still take no action, with 2.2 million complaints in Scotland going unaddressed last year.

Scots are also the least likely people to complain. Those who failed to complain over problems they had suffered said they chose not to do so because of the time and effort required to take action. “Given that consumer trust in companies in Scotland is low, the time is right for businesses to embrace third parties as a means of resolving disputes,” said chief ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith.

“The research shows that 32 per cent of Scots would be more willing to buy a product or service from a company offering such a service, so transparency clearly has a big role to play in shaping consumer opinion and enhancing brand image.”

The survey found that of those who do take action, most are likely to initially contact the company responsible.

However, many disputes are now escalated to other independent third parties, such as ombudsmen, who deal with dispute resolution between companies and individuals.

Complaints about energy companies alone which have been sent to the Ombudsman have doubled in the past 12 months.

More than a quarter of people turn to social media to handle their complaint, taking to sites such as Twitter to name and shame the company which has left them disgruntled.

Fewer than one in ten said they had taken their gripe to traditional media outlets such as newspapers.

Margaret Lynch, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, said that the report revealed that over a third of British consumers think that big business is only interested in profit and cares “little” for customer satisfaction.

“This is a damning indictment,” she said. “It is no wonder public confidence is so low when prices are rising substantially, even when profits are soaring for some of the companies involved. These sectors have a real job to do to improve their practices in customer service before their reputation is damaged beyond repair.”

She added: “The positive side of this research is that it seems people are becoming more willing to stand up and assert their rights as consumers.

“This is encouraging, and although the report also finds some people are still reluctant to complain about poor service, we would urge them to join the trend of those who do, because this is the only sure way to secure change.”