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How to make a complaint about a self-catering cottage

The self catering accommodation industry has often been the brunt of bad press surrounding shoddy agents, properties not being of the standard advertised, (or not being available at all!) and agents washing their hands of things by stating the holiday booking is directly between the property owner and the guest.

The law for holiday rentals is not too helpful either, because while there is an extraordinary amount of legal cover for people booking a “Package Holiday”, the same cannot be said for renting a holiday cottage direct from the owner – whether there is an agent involved in the mix or not.

It’s probably fair to say that most owners and agents do an excellent job of maintaining high standards for their guests. They realise the importance of good customer service and ensuring the quality of their properties, and they work hard to benefit the tourism industry as a whole.

But when a property does not live up to its claims then it can completely ruin that precious holiday that you have so looked forward to – and maybe saved up a long time for too, so naturally you want to make a complaint and have something done about it.

It is important to remember here that complaints can be subjective, and there is a rather sad tendency in the UK to turn to litigation as a money-making scheme in the wake of consumer programmes such as Watchdog.

This means that the first instinct of an owner or agent is often disbelieving; “they are just trying to get some money back”, and unfortunately how your complaint is handled can depend very much on how you handle the situation yourself.

Taking a civilised and reasonable approach can do far more good then getting angry and shouting the odds, and you will find that most owners and agents do genuinely want to help.

Often a complaint arises due to the personal opinion of the guest, which may not be the fault of the owner, nor anything they can really put right.

Often too, the owner or cottage agency are not alerted to issues by the previous guests, so they have never had a chance to fix them in between bookings – there is only so much a cleaner will be trained to report and most companies will not carry out a thorough inspection more than once a season due to back to back bookings or internal policies.

What to do when holidays go wrong

If something is genuinely causing a problem and needs to be rectified, you should follow these steps to make a complaint :

  • Use your common sense – is the complaint more to do with your own subjective likes and dislikes, or is there a genuine quality or safety issue that needs to be addressed and is it having a serious impact on your holiday?
  • Report it immediately and without delay. If there is an obvious “solution” to your problem (e.g. please send cleaners to go round again, please replace dirty bed linen, please send maintenance to fix the broken swings/boiler/shower rail etc etc) then you have a duty as the customer to report the issues straight away so that the owner or agency can be given the opportunity to remedy the situation for you. With luck, it will be fixed quickly and you can get on with enjoying your holiday.

    If you continue to use the property and then only make the complaint upon your return home, you may seriously undermine your position. It’s a bit like complaining about a meal in a restaurant after having eaten all the food.

  • Remain calm and reasonable at all times.  An owner or agent will be far more willing to help you early on if you keep the hostilities to a minimum, even if you are very angry. If the complaint needs to be progressed later then you will stand a much better chance if you can maintain a civilised but serious stance, especially in the event of mediation or a tribunal becoming necessary.
  • Just in case it needs to be taken further, make sure you get photographs of all the items you are complaining about. Whether you are reporting broken equipment, dirty presentation or things not being as described (and photographed), having a pictorial record of the issues is very important in explaining what the problem is.  Owners are liable under Supply of Goods and Services Act to deliver the service and facilities as outlined in the contract, but the onus is on you to prove if that was not the case. (see more details at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1982/29 ).
  • Take a video if possible, as this will show the issues in better detail and helps to put things in context in a more visual manner.
  • Take down contact details of any relevant witnesses to the problem who may need to be called upon later to support your complaint.
  • If the issue is not resolved during or immediately after your stay, write an official letter of complaint to the company or owner within 15 days of your return, or as per their complaints procedure. Make sure you keep all subjective personal opinions and emotions out of this letter, and instead just make a clear concise list of all the facts relating to your complaint.

    You need to outline why the holiday did not live up to the contract between yourself and the property provider, so make sure you read through all the marketing material used to sell the holiday  as well as the terms and conditions of your booking first.

    Give each item its own numbered paragraph, matching these numbers up with the photographs you have taken.  Also make a note of the time and date each issue was reported, what the response was and what action has been taken so far.

    If you feel that action was inadequate, state clearly why you think that was the case and how it continued to affect your holiday.

    Finally, work out how much compensation you want to ask for. Include any additional expenses to cover alternative accommodation in the event that it was necessary to move –  but be aware that this may only be considered necessary if you first gave the company a chance to rectify the issue.

    For further advice on how much compensation to claim you can talk to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/ or if the claim involves some form of personal injury or illness then you should take legal advice from a suitably qualified solicitor who may be able to handle the complaint on your behalf.

  • If you still don’t get the desired outcome following your letter which you have backed up with photographic evidence, then there may be more “official” channels you can try. But be warned, as stated above the law covering independent holiday rentals is not the same as the Package Travel Regulations covering Tour Operators, who can be held 100% liable for the acts of their suppliers.

    Firstly, check if you have booked through a company which is registered with ABTA or AITO, in which case you should make use of their own dispute settlement services.

    If you have booked with an independent agent or direct with the owner in the UK, you can make a small claims court application online at https://www.gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money/overview. A money judgement awarded by the UK courts can also be recovered against an EU citizen under the Brussels Regulation and Lugano Convention, and against non-EU citizens via reciprocal agreements in those countries, though the costs can be high so you need to balance that against the amount you are claiming.

    You can also report the property to the Tourist Board responsible for grading the accommodation to begin with – if they are not registered then they may find themselves in seriously hot water and will be more than willing to settle your case amicably, so make sure you inform them of what you are doing every step of the way.

    To claim against a property or owner outside the UK you can also try the European Small Claims Court for amounts up to €2,000 http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/consumers/protection_of_consumers/l16028_en.htm

    All of these channels can cost you money, so you have to weigh up the cost and energy required versus the amount of compensation you want to claim back. Also take care with the natural instinct to turn to Trip Advisor and slate an owner publically online, or it could be you who ends up being sued for defamation!

    The rule of thumb with complaints is to go calmly, sensibly, and stick to the facts for the best possible outcome.

What about compensation?

Before you start demanding a full refund from owners or agents, put things into perspective. Was the incident out of their control? Did they take reasonable steps to rectify the situation? Did you give them the opportunity to do so?

Your request for compensation should be warranted.

One thing that sets self catering accommodation apart from faceless hotel chains is the personal service you get – owners and agents care. It’s just one of the many reasons why holiday home rentals are surging in demand.

Until a court says otherwise any compensation is at the discretion holiday property owners. For minor incidents, such as no heating for a few hours, then a goodwill gesture such as a bottle of wine or, meal at a local restaurant or discount off a future stay may be sufficient.

If only one day/night of your stay has been affected then a refund of the cost of 1 nights’ accommodation is acceptable. Don’t expect a full refund.

If you feel you have been deliberately mislead e.g. no swimming pool when one is advertised, a construction site on your doorstep, an infestation of mice or had your security deposit wrongfully deducted, then you may wish to pursue a part/full refund via direct negotiation or the courts.

To summarise  

  • Taking a civilised and reasonable approach can do far more good then getting angry and shouting the odds.
  • You have a duty as the customer to report the issues straight away so that the owner or agency can be given the opportunity to remedy the situation.
  • Be reasonable, was the incident out of their control?
  • Just in case it needs to be taken further, make sure you get photographs of all the items you are complaining about.
  • If the issue is not resolved during or immediately after your stay, write an official letter of complaint.
  • How much compensation do you want? It may only be warranted if you gave the company a chance to rectify the issue.
  • If you are still unhappy with the outcome you can make a small claims court application, but weigh up the cost and energy required versus the amount of compensation you want to claim back.

Complaints are few and far between because most guests and owners resolve problems at the time. It’s when these procedures aren’t followed that complaints escalate.


  • Heather Bayer |

    Great article. I would add that review sites are not the platform to make an initial complaint, nor are they a place to complain about weather, or other issues beyond the owners control. I often see reviews posted that make negative comments about aspects of the vacation that could not possibly be the responsibility of the owner or agent – bad service in a local restaurant, or an attraction that closed early, for example.

    • Philip |

      Good point Heather. However, if guests have exhausted all other means to resolve disputes with owners or leting agencies and still feel unhappy with the outcome, then review sites are a useful platform to give feedback. Owners can also reply with their side of events so third parties can form their own conclusions.

  • Susy |

    Thank you for this article! We just spent our vacation at a cottage where the power was turned off for four days because the owner did not pay the bill. We were cold, no water, in the dark, food ruined and had to eat out. After the fourth day, we left. The price was 100.00 per day, the owner is pretty odd! What would you recommend for compensation?
    Thank you

    • Philip |

      Surprised you stayed for four days in those conditions. Have you been in contact with the owner to discuss a refund? Maybe suggest a refund for the 4 days affected as you can’t reasonably expect a full refund if you had a few days where there weren’t any problems. It’s usually better to come to an agreement where both parties are happy with the settlement rather than pursue the other alternatives suggested in this post.

  • Adele |

    Really useful article, thank you. We stayed in a cottage during the summer, it was advertised as having central heating-when we got there it had an old back boiler that didn’t work, so no heating for the whole two weeks! Yes it was summer, but for 5 days of our holiday it rained, making the property cold and damp-no other heating was available. The hot water was by an immersion heater which we had to switch on every morning. In addition to this the kitchen ceiling leaked when it rained. We reported it to the agents but nothing got done during our stay so we complained on our return. After 7 weeks they have just offered us £150, our holiday cost £1600! They haven’t answered any of our questions and the excuse for the delay is because the owner lives in Australia and hasn’t replied to their emails. Have we got a case for a full refund?!

  • Cathy |

    We have recently stayed in a cottage, which for November, at 27 degrees plus, was far too hot! The heating was underfloor, powered by an eco-wood burner that the owners looked after. We were told they did not know how to turn it down. We had to have doors & windows open – even though it was wet & windy outside. Also the wind made the tiles bang all through the night. The owners were aware of these problems but had not seen fit to fix them. We did not stay the full week. I have complained to the agency by email and requested a refund. I have not heard anything yet.
    If I have no joy I will resort to leaving my comments on Trip Advisor.

  • John |

    Not sure how I’m fixed…I booked a cottage in Cornwall earlier this year and it’s now time to pay the remaining balance. Just been on their website and it says that a neighbour is carrying construction work near the property. Obviously this may mean dust, banging, sawing etc, does that give me grounds to cancel and get my deposit back? £1500 for a week in total!!!

    • Philip |

      I would speak to the owner/agent and ask how much the construction work is likely to have an adverse effect on your holiday. Have any recent guests complained about the noise? Do any recent reviews from past guests mention the construction work? A goodwill gesture from the owner/agent (e.g. a % refund or a contribution towards a meal at the local pub, voucher for a local tourist attraction) may be warranted depending on the extent of the disturbance. Cancelling the holiday is an overreaction as it’s out of the owners control and the accommodation is still available. Speak to them, you might be worrying unnecessarily.

  • Harry |

    Currently renting a modern “two bedroom holiday let” for a week in Surrey for 1200 pounds a week. The agents advertised a designer kitchen with dishwasher, however the dishwasher does not work and the agents were aware of this before we moved in. Additionally the agents claim that no dishwasher was mentioned in the advert on Booking.com, but clearly it does ! Apartment is describing as having a “Designer Kitchen” with dishwasher. Also tiolets leak and cannot be repaired as plumber claims not to have the parts in stock. Window handle is broken, clothing / airer broken, one bed broken. Second bathroom stank when we moved in. All these were brought to the attention of the agent. They have offered an extra two hours on the day of departure as compensation. The agent continues to describe the flat as a designer flat with designer kitchen yet fully aware of the faults, surely a case of misrepresentation. I have contacted them on many occasions and they have promised to return calls but never honored. Once litagation was mentioned they then put the phone down, yet still advertising on Booking.com. What is the way forward ?

    • Philip |

      Hopefully the advice in this post covers the necessary steps to take.

  • Tash |

    I booked a stunning holiday home in Cornwall at £2400 p/w to which I had power cuts to the property for the first 2 nights. They sent an electrician to fix the problem which he couldn’t do so I requested to move properties. They did this but to a lower standard of property of £1500 p/w.
    So I have asked for a refund of the difference not any compensation. Do you think I have the right to claim this. I am prepared to go to court over this even if it looses me money in the process!

  • babs |

    The problem with private holiday accommodation can be that the host will have mostly had no professional training and so you will be at the mercy of their personal character traits. One place we stayed (self catering) we left clean and tidy and yet received an odd and confounding email complaining at the terrible state we had left things in and listing our ‘misdemeanors’! At another place, which had otherwise been lovely, the wifi didn’t work, and as this was fairly necessary to us, we reported this. After my second request for it to be fixed, I received an emotional reply saying that we should find alternative accommodation, which in the particular circumstances would not have been feasible (although to be fair they did offer a refund). I’ve also been told off for using the shower in the afternoon!!

    • Philip |

      Sounds like you have been unlucky. With attitudes like that I don’t expect their guests to return. Most owners/managers offer a personal 5* service which is what typically sets holiday rentals apart from large hotel chains.


    We rented a terraced cottage where the property next door was undergoing a complete refurbishment. Day one was replacing the floorboards! This lasted for the entire period of our stay. I have video evidence. Do I have any redress?

    • Philip |

      I would have thought some form of compensation is appropriate. Did you report this to the agent/owner at the time?

  • Carl fisher |

    All good info. But what about if you rent a property from a UK resident but the property is in UNITED STATES. Can you still make a claim against them through UK small claims track? Or should it be pursued through the courts in its home state of USA.

  • Ray |

    I recently rented a carefully chosen cottage in Wales. During the first night there was a flood in the kitchen because of a fault with the boiler. The agency offered us an unsuitable, alternative flat which we declined. They then offered a second flat in a different location which we reluctantly accepted. Organising this meant that we ended up losing a day of our holidays, and spending the remaining time in a location we did not choose. What do you think is reasonable compensation?

    • Philip |

      Hi, as you mention losing a day of your holiday, the cost of 1 day pro-rata would be a starting point.

  • Anne |

    I have a cottage booked for next weekend through an agent, there has been a flurry of recent reviews in relating to heating and hot water not working correctly. I have contacted the agent who has said it is fixed, but then more reviews about the same issue. Due to a medical issue I have asked if I can change the accommodation, based on reviews and offered to provide evidence. I was again told everything was fine, then received an email saying the owner was attending at the weekend to fix the heating and the agent was awaiting a report from British Gas.

    I have asked for contact details of the MD so I can deal directly with her, I have not been given these details, so have asked via the generic email that this be escalated to her. I have received no further correspondence or acknowledgement, is there any further action I can take. I was advised that if I cancelled if the cottage was not re-let I would lose all my money, I don’t want to cancel I just want warm accommodation where I control the heating not the owner.

    • Philip |

      I would get it in writing if the heating is fixed. Then you will have grounds for a complaint if there is a problem with the heating during your stay.

  • Andrew |

    Currently renting flat in Spain £2,400 for 2 weeks and neighbouring property being renovated, noise awful, jack hammers, banging. Owners say they can’t do anything. Five days into holiday and am going for refund but how do I assess noise inconvenience to holiday. Appreciate any comments or advice

    • Philip |

      I would gather video evidence to support your request for compensation. It’s up to the owner whether they do or don’t reimburse you, although I would expect that most owners would give some form of refund in this situation. If the owner is resident in the UK and you are unable to agree on compensation, then you could take them to the small claims court. Where they aware of the construction work?

  • Lynda Kingston |

    I rented a 5* luxury holiday let in Cornwall in December for a special occasion. We arrived to a musty cold filthy place with broken mirrors and furniture. We reported it and a representative was sent out to fix the heating, which improved it, but it was still cold. He also said that the place was filthy and took photo’s to put in a report.

    The whole place had obviously been not cleaned for some time as there was no way it could have built up to that state in a week or two. There were only 4 of us in a 3 bedroom let but there was only enough hot water for 2 showers. The sink area was disgusting and the dishwasher was filthy. We considered it a health hazard. There was also a mousetrap quite visible in the kitchen.
    There was a massive conservatory with sofas, easy chairs and a formal dining table and chairs. There was no heating in here at all, so as it was a December, we could not use it. That was the main attraction as there are sea views.
    The agency say our contract is with the owner and the owner insists that it is nothing to do with her. We have sent our photo’s and a written report to both parties. What should our next step be. We have asked for a copy of the report that the representative put in but no one seems to know who it was, which is very convenient.
    We paid £1200 for 2 weeks. The place wasn’t fit to stay in and was certainly nowhere near 5* or luxurious. I have asked the agent why there are no public reviews for this cottage and they say that no one has left any, which seems most improbable.

    • Philip |

      The agency say our contract is with the owner This seems to be a way some agencies get out of being accountable. You mentioned the place wasn’t fit to stay in, but did you leave early? If you stayed for the whole duration, then I expect this could go against your point. If you paid for the booking with a credit card, then maybe raise a dispute with your credit card company. Reviews are also a great platform for consumers to share both good and bad experiences that they have with a product/service. Write a review detailing your experience with the agency/property owner. They will have the opportunity to reply with their version of events. Have you followed the agencies official complaints procedure? Good luck.

  • M Roberts |

    What would you recommend as an appropriate % compensation to ask for, for difficulties with water for a couple of days?
    Unable to shower / wash up – no problems with flushing toilet or anything else. Owner fixed on 3rd day. There were public shower facilities close by, but that’s not what we wanted.
    Want to be reasonable, but was inconvenienced. Is a full day’s refund too much to ask for?
    Owner reasonable and I said I would follow up …. but don’t think he will give 100% per day as we had everything ok. Thanks

    • Philip |

      I would see what the owner offers as a goodwill gesture e.g. a 10% refund or a discount off a future stay would be reasonable. Unfortunately, the unexpected can happen when holiday letting.

  • Anderson susan |

    We had booked from the owner a selfcatering flat in Edinburgh and paid him 1.145.00 pounds in advance which is common practice for self catering flats. We arrived last week and the flat was stone cold. It was 5.5 C outside. We told the owner and all he had to say was, the heating goes on 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening at 18 C. People are out during the day anyway. We also had the feeling that the beds had not been changed after the people left he same morning. We told the owner we were not willing to stay in a cold flat and we would look for another place. Itt took us 2 days to find one. We asked the owner for our money back and were willing to pay for the 2 cold nights.
    He refuses to give us any money back and now we have to pay for 2 flats which makes it a bit heavy. We messed about all week long to get help, visit Scotland etc.
    What do you recommend we should do?. We are not even thinking of compensation, we just want our 1.1.45,00 Pounds back and Edinburgh will never see us again. This is not a way to treat visitors to this country.

    • Philip |

      Personally, I think that programming the heating to come on 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening at 18oC is insufficient. Everybody has different preferences as to what temperature they are comfortable with, especially those from overseas. Most owners allow guests to control the heating as this prevents uncomfortable guests and complaints. With regards to compensation, I wouldn’t expect a refund for the two days you stayed there. If the owner didn’t increase the temperature as requested or provide an additional heating source, then I would request a refund for the unused days. Let us know how this works out.

  • Richard |

    Philip, you wrote recently “The agency say our contract is with the owner. This seems to be a way some agencies get out of being accountable”. When the payment goes to the agent, isn’t there a contract with the agent. Should agents get away with saying the owner is in Australia/ill/refusing to negotiate and it is not our responsibility? Do you know of successful small claims against agents? Does the Consumer Rights Act 2015 clarify this?

  • Angela Underdown |

    Arrived at a cottage on a Fri afternoon for 7 nights. in side garden after we checked in i noticed a flood of water and could see its from an overflow pipe. I let the house keeper know and she frowned and said the owner was aware. He turned up next morning and said it’s a leak from tank in loft and too much of a effort to get up there that day to fix. I said it’s fine but he left. But also said we will see water coming from under fridge and that’s OK too!. Rolling forward to Monday eve I started feeling ill , and said to hubby at staying in..worst decision. Tues I felt awful and apart getting up midday ish I spent most in bed. There was not enough hot water to have a decent bath, show r or even wash dishes. Bed sheets were soaked from what ever I had and no mean’s to wash them. So we decided to go home on Wed.. thurs morning my hubbly gave cottage a spring clean and noticed live mould growing up the wall behind the TV caused by leak. The ownerswere aware as put air freshers around area. So thurs am I went to doctors and have a lung infection and am on steriods/anti fungal and antibiotics . Being in the cottage with electric heater on on eve right by mould was making me worse. I have written to the agency asking for compensation before I seek legal advice. Is this right or straight legal advice. I know owners name, should I go to him? I have also complained to environmental health

    • Philip |

      Looks like you have taken the right steps so far. I would wait for a reply from the agency and if you are unhappy with the outcome pursue it further. Ideally the cottage owner should have public liability insurance to deal with situations like this.

  • Carol |

    I booked a holiday caravan (on owners property) arrived on the Saturday, all fine til the Monday morning, no electricty, informed owner at 7.30am about an hour later owner came and found fusebox etc in wardrobe – circuit breaker had tripped….reset. Tuesday night at 10.30pm electric went off again. Again waited until 7.30am next morning and informed owner yet again. Came and looked and said give me 30 mins. Came back at about 9.30 with a boiled kettle when I asked what was happening was informed electrician on way. He came and fitted a new RCD thought alkbwoukd be fine. Then again this morning (wednesday) NO electricity. We were meant to be having a relaxing break and had been inconvenienced a total of three mornings, not at all relaxing. Couldnt face anymore mornings like this so informed the owner and came home. We left the place clean and tidy but obviously couldn’t vacuum as no electricity. The week cost £500 . Should I ask for a partial refund? Thanks in advance

    • Philip |

      Some form of goodwill gesture would be appropriate. However, it’s at the owners’ discretion.

  • Darry |

    I rented a villa that is fully licensed to sleep 6 people. 5 people were originally booked and a 6th joined last minute. Despite this, the prices to rent on the website are the same for 5 people as it is for 6 people so we assumed we would pay no extra. Whilst we was in the middle of the holiday the owner told us this wasn’t the case and we had to pay an extra fee for the 6th person otherwise legal action would be taken and authorities would eject us. I’ve checked my paperwork and I think I am in the right and he just wanted to overcharge. Please advise if I have case to claim as the owner is now ignoring my requests.


    • Philip |

      Did you get a discount for 5 instead of six guests? If so then the owner is entitled to charge for the extra guest due to the extra cleaning costs, wear and tear etc.

  • Denise Garthwaite |

    I have just found out the cottage I have rented has been given to someone else without being told. We are a group of 16 going in 2 cottages. I can’t get to speak to the manager to get a resolution – a receptionist is fobbing me off. Do I make a complaint to Trading Standards, do I take it to a solicitor?

    • Philip |

      Was the booking with a private owner or an agency? What does your booking contract say about cancellations?

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