How to Make a Complaint About a Self-Catering Cottage
The self-catering accommodation industry has often been the brunt of bad press – primarily due to complaints about the holiday rental not being as advertised or being “dirty”. Holiday cottage booking agents are also guilty of shunning accountability when things go wrong, by stating the booking contract is directly between the accommodation owner and the guest.
The law for holiday rentals is not too helpful either, because while there is protection 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 or not.
It’s probably fair to say that most holiday rental 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 holiday properties.
But when a property does not live up to expectations then it can completely ruin that precious holiday that you have so looked forward to. Naturally, you will want to make a complaint and have something done about it.
Your holiday booking is likely to be a binding contract, so there will be steps you must take when complaining to improve your chances of receiving a refund (if that’s what you want).
Here is our guide on how to complain if your holiday accommodation was not as promised.
What to do when holidays go wrong
Is it a genuine complaint?
It is important to remember that complaints can be subjective, some people complain for the sake of complaining. 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. Is it having a serious impact on your holiday?
Keep a sense of perspective. How bad is it really? Are you blowing a small thing out of proportion? If a hot tub was advertised, but there isn’t one, you have every right to complain as you booked the accommodation based on there being one. However, if several minor details affected your holiday, e.g. your found hair in the plughole or there aren’t enough coat hangers, how this affects the enjoyment of the holiday is subjective.
Report it immediately
You have a duty to report any issues to the owner or agent as soon as you are aware of them. By phone and in writing (so there’s a paper trail) outlining what the problem is – and the solution you want. If you’ve booked via a listing site e.g. Airbnb and your host is unresponsive or unable to correct the problem, make your complaint to the resolution team via your account.
More often than not there will be a quick solution to your problem e.g. a minor cleanliness issue that’s easily resolved by the host re-cleaning and replacing the sheets.
You should allow the owner or agency 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’re still dissatisfied, the fact that you’ve allowed them to address the problem will help you make a better case.
If you don’t say anything until you get home, you might make it much harder to get compensation. It’s a bit like complaining about a meal in a restaurant after having eaten all the food.
Be friendly and reasonable
How your complaint is handled can depend very much on how you communicate the problem. An owner or agent will be far more willing to help you if you keep the hostilities to a minimum, even if you are angry.
Often, the owner or agency will not be aware of problems if the previous guests haven’t reported them, so they have never had a chance to fix them in-between bookings. It could also be a genuine oversight e.g. the cleaner forgot to put fresh towels out in the ensuite during a quick changeover.
Remember things break down which is unlikely to be the fault of the owner. Most owners and agents do genuinely want to help. Confrontation is counterproductive. Remain calm and reasonable at all times.
If there is a serious problem which is not satisfactorily resolved, keep copies of written correspondence, logs of phone calls and document the evidence of the problem via photos and/or video. Whether it’s a safety issue, a dirty property or things not being as described. Having evidence will be enormously helpful should you need to take your case to the Small Claims Court or arbitration.
How to make a complaint
Put it in writing
If the issue is not resolved during your stay, write an official letter of complaint by registered post to the cottage agency, owner or booking site when you get home. Check the booking terms and conditions for the 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 accommodation provider. Was the holiday let dirty or not as advertised? Did the photos bear little resemblance to the disappointing reality? Make sure you read through all the marketing material used to sell the holiday as well as the terms and conditions of your booking.
Give each item its own numbered paragraph, matching these numbers up with the supporting evidence. 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 the problem wasn’t resolved even though you gave them to chance, state clearly why you think that was the case and how it affected your holiday.
How to get a refund
Before you start demanding a full refund, put things into perspective.
-Was the incident out of the property managers 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. If the property manager tried/or solved the problem, or you only complained after completing your holiday – it is much harder to insist on a full refund.
Until a court says otherwise, any compensation is at the discretion of the holiday property owner or agent. For minor incidents, such as no heating for a few hours, then a goodwill gesture such as a bottle of fizz, a 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 equivalent to the cost of 1 nights’ accommodation is generally acceptable. You can’t expect a full refund.
If you feel you have been deliberately misled e.g. there are only 2 bedrooms not 3 as advertised, then you may wish to pursue a partial or full refund if you had to leave.
Know your consumer rights
If the accommodation is not of satisfactory quality, not as described or not fit for purpose then the provider may be in breach of consumer law. You could use this law to gain redress.
Complain to a trade body
Contact (or threaten to contact) the local or regional tourist board or the trade association that is responsible for grading the accommodation. You could also report the business you believe is behaving unfairly to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). This may persuade the property manager to settle your case amicably.
Did you pay by card?
If there was a breach of contract and you paid by credit card, you may be able to claim back money through your card provider (Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act).
Contact a consumer champion
Your chances of getting redress from a reluctant owner are extremely low. If you still don’t get the desired outcome, then there may be more “official” channels you can try to force a resolution to the dispute.
There are several consumer champion journalists who have helped travellers who have had problems with a holiday or travel (see the case studies below). You could try contacting them for help solving a problem.
- firstname.lastname@example.org (giving your full name and, if your query is about a dispute with a travel company, your address, telephone number and any booking reference).
- The Telegraph’s consumer champion on Twitter @KatieMorley_
- email@example.com (email with Consumer Fight Back in the subject line, include a short paragraph about your issue).
- Maisha Frost on firstname.lastname@example.org
- https://twitter.com/ComplainingCow/ Helen Dewdney, consumer champion, blogger and author.
After a difficult night’s sleep in uncomfortable, stained, damp beds, the guests decided they didn’t want to stay any longer and requested a full refund. The agency said that the dispute was between the holidaymakers and the owner of the property.
The owner offered £100 as a goodwill gesture. The guest refused and insisted on a full refund. This was received following a final letter to the owner’s solicitor requesting a full refund before taking court action.
These holidaymakers chose a holiday cottage because off-road parking was available. When they arrived, they realised all was not as the advertisement had indicated.
The water heating system was also on the blink so they decided to head home the day after they arrived.
The complaint to the agency and request for a proportionate £200 refund fell on stony ground. That was until the Express asked it to review the matter again. This time its response was completely different. They received a £200 refund and a £75 voucher as goodwill gestures.
Sykes Holiday Cottages provided a full refund. Gathering supporting evidence (photos) proved their complaint was valid.
If you don’t want to accept a voucher or rebook your holiday for a later date, can you complain if you don’t get a refund? Under normal circumstances exactly what you’re entitled to is likely to depend on the precise wording of your booking contract. However, the watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority has launched an investigation into businesses which fail to give customers refunds for coronavirus-related cancellations.
The small claims court
Hopefully it won’t get to this stage. In some instances, the threat of legal proceedings can be enough to resolve matters.
Before you start legal action against a holiday rental, you have to weigh up the cost and energy required versus the amount of compensation you want to claim back.
The small claims track is a relatively quick, low cost and simple way of taking your case to court. Here’s one example where a holiday let landlord was ordered to pay £2,000 damages after forcing a family out of cottage during their holiday. They sued for unlawful eviction and breach of contract.
For information on the court route visit:
- Citizens Advice there’s more advice here.
- Which? has a useful guide to using the small claims court as does Moneysavingexpert.
- How to make a small claims court application
To claim against a company or owner outside the UK you can ask the UK European Consumer Centre for help.
You could also go down the mediation route. The Civil Mediation Council (020 7353 3227; civilmediation.org) offers telephone-based mediation to resolve disputes for £50 per hour for claims up to £5,000.
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.
One thing that sets self-catering accommodation providers apart from large hotel chains is the personal service you get – owners and agents care about their guests. Successful lettings depend on trust and all parties acting honourably. Complaints are few and far between because most guests and owners resolve problems amicably.
- Taking a civilised and reasonable approach is more effective than getting angry and shouting the odds.
- You have a duty to report problems straight away so that the owner or agency has the opportunity to try and remedy the situation.
- Be reasonable, was the incident out of their control?
- Make sure you gather evidence to support your complaint.
- If the issue is not resolved during or immediately after your stay, write an official letter of complaint.
- Until a court says otherwise, any compensation is at the discretion of the holiday property owner or agent.
- If you are 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. Sometimes, the threat of legal action is enough to resolve disputes.
- Avoid attacking the owner online, or it could be you who ends up being sued for defamation!