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.
- 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.