Very few people actually enjoy complaining about things. But sometimes this is the only way to make change happen. When you experience a situation where arrangements weren’t satisfactory it can be really disheartening, but sometimes even dangerous. It’s difficult when you’re upset by a situation to complain and get the result you want and need.
But first you need to know to what your rights are
The equalities act states – “The Equality Act 2010 protects you from discrimination. It provides legal rights for you in the areas of:
- access to goods, services and facilities
- buying and renting land or property
The Equality Act 2010 also protects your rights if you have an association with a disabled person, for example a carer or parent.”
Method of making complaint
First off, ask yourself is it a minor or major complaint? If it’s something minor – like the accessible toilet needing cleaning. Especially if it’s a one off, complain verbally. If it’s something fairly major – such as no or poor access, ableist staff or discrimination, complain in writing. You may also want to make a written complaint about minor complaints that are dealt with ineffectively.
Take a few deep breaths! Even minor things, especially on a bad/low spoons day can totally throw us. It’s always best if you present your complaint either as a suggestion or with a resolution. Using the dirty accessible toilet as an example – you could say ‘the toilet needs cleaning’, presenting the resolution first. Saying ‘the toilet is dirty’ presents the problem first, rather than the solution. If this doesn’t work, or the issue is repeated, then you may feel you need to make a written complaint.
Complaining in writing
It’s always best to follow a company or organisation’s complaints procedure. This way it’s logged in their system and can’t be “lost”. If you have to escalate your complaint to a head office, or ombudsman (an official organisation who will investigate individual complaints), you’ll need to make sure that you have followed the correct procedure. If you aren’t told how to complain in writing, search for their website. This should detail what format the complaint needs to be – electronic or hard copy, and where to send it. They should also tell you how long it will take for your complaint to be dealt with.
What do you want changed?
It’s always important to be clear and concise with any complaint. Tell them how you feel it could be improved, rather than just telling them what doesn’t work or isn’t suitable. Try to be as detailed as you can with this. Don’t just say you want better access. Tell them what you feel would need to be done to achieve this. Not everyone knows what accessibility really means. What is accessible for you may not be accessible for everyone.
Is what you want changed reasonable?
The term reasonable adjustment is incredibly vague! And it does unfortunately mean that you have to make your own judgement. Think about whether this change would also help other people. If so, then its likely its reasonable. If it’s a small change, such as changing signage to something that is a higher contrast, that would also be reasonable. This is a short list of what is reasonable, but there are many other adjustments:
- Adding rails and ramps
- Clear signage and hazards (such as the edges of steps, glass doors or steep steps/ramp)
- Widening doorways
- Providing a BSL interpreter
- Providing information in large print, braille, on CD or in an easy read format
- Having accessible toilet facilities
- Providing assistance when needed
- Allowing assistance dogs admittance
Set the tone
Is it more of a suggestion rather than an actual complaint? Make it advisory in tone, tell the person or company how these changes would make it easier for not just you but the wider disabled community. If you are making a serious complaint – about discrimination or poor service as a result of your disability, keep emotion out of it, or at least keep it until the very end. It is much better to tell them how the situation made you feel once they have read the facts. Make sure you state what happened, when, where, and include any proof if you have it – this could be a receipt to show you purchased something or it could be photos. Don’t worry if you haven’t got proof – they still have to deal with your complaint.
What to not include?
I am a big BIG fan of quoting legislation to get stuff done. It helped me get a place in the local school (rather than one 3 miles away) for my stepson. But…there is a time and place for legislation and its not at the first stage of a complaint. If they don’t respond to your first letter/email, including it in a second letter/email may be more appropriate. Don’t get overly emotional, and most definitely don’t get abusive. Even when someone was clearly out of line, it is always best to state the facts. Don’t make remarks about their personal character or say you think someone should be sacked. That never goes down well!
What do you do if they ignore your complaint or don’t handle it as you would like?
As long as your have followed their complaints procedure and given them plenty of time to respond (a month is normally needed for more complex complaints) you can then go onto the next level of complaint resolution. How and who you progress your complaint with very much depends who you are complaining about. For instance, if it’s a chain shop and you’ve complained to the store you experienced an issue at, try contacting their head office. If its social services or any other service which is looked after by the local council then it’s worth contacting the local government ombudsman.
There are ombudsmen for financial services (which includes banks, building societies and insurance companies), energy, housing, Higher education, police, legal services, furniture, waterways, removals, motor vehicles, pensions, and retail. ACAS are also very helpful with employment disputes and resolver can also be helpful for areas not covered by and ombudsmen. It helps to include your original complaint, any evidence and then any further correspondence you may have had with the organisation you have complained about.
What if the complaints procedure itself isn’t accessible?
All companies should provide two methods of complaining. If the that you’re complaining about whether to provide a method that you can use, then it’s worth speaking to the CAB or resolver who may be able to submit the complaint on your behalf.