What to do if you have a consumer problem with your bathroom

None of us want to think about it, but it can happen… Having planned your dream bathroom, and budgeted for all the items you want, there’s something wrong with one of them. Or you’re simply not happy with the way it has been installed. What should you do?

The first step when complaining is always to make sure the other party is aware of your concerns and has the opportunity to correct them. The best way to achieve this is to put a complaint in writing saying exactly what you feel has gone wrong and what redress you feel is necessary. Don’t forget to confirm what protections are available under any guarantee or warranty, and check out any complaints procedure the retailer or contractor might have.

Sometimes this will solve the problem. However, if you are not satisfied with the answer, or if your complaint is not answered in a timely fashion, you will need to take further action.

This could involve consulting an industry watchdog, getting some advice from trading standards or, as a last resort, taking legal action. We hope this never happens to you. But, if it does, here are some organisations that may be able to help you take your complaint further, or advise you on how to make it as effective as possible:

Industry bodies

A great way to avoid problems, as well as dealing with them when they arise, is to deal with retailers or contractors that are members of a recognised industry association or reputable registration scheme. Here are some suggestions:

Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineers
The professional body for the UK’s plumbing and heating industry operates a code of professional standards and a complaints procedure for members. Its website offers the facility to find a member in your area, verify a contractor’s membership and check out its latest consumer advice.
The Furniture Ombudsman
This scheme, run by the Furniture Industry Retail Association, aims to improve the standards and service offered by retailers in the furniture, home improvement and floor coverings industries. It operates a membership scheme which includes impartial dispute resolution, and TFO members include a number of retailers that sell bathroom products and furniture, such as B&Q, Dolphin, Homebase, Marks & Spencer and Wickes. It does, therefore, provide some benefits if you are a consumer shopping for these products, and you can check out its list of members here.
Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association
This retailers’ association covers more than 300 businesses trading in the specified areas and offers a complaints procedure and a two-tier warranty and deposit protection scheme to back their work, as well as featuring buying advice on its website and a member search. Learn more about the KBBSA here.
The Tile Association
This industry body audits its members by carrying out financial health checks and asking for references, as well as offering a warranty scheme which provides consumer protection in regard to workmanship. It has a directory, allowing consumers to find association members, which you can access here.
This membership organisation aims to help consumers find local, reliable and trustworthy tradespeople, and bathroom specialists are one of the categories available through its member search. It works with local government and is supported by consumer groups. You can check it out here.

Consumer advice

This independent, not-for-profit website aims to provide you with current and accurate information on rights and legal issues. You can visit its consumer affairs section here. We also really like its seven steps to solving a problem.
Citizens Advice Bureau: Consumer affairs
The national advice organisation runs a website called Adviceguide that can give you guidance on tackling a vast range of issues including consumer affairs. Also well worth a look are its pages on your rights when buying goods.
Direct.gov: Consumer rights
The government’s information portal has a strong section on consumer affairs, including what your rights are in relation to different purchases, how to complain and how to avoid scams. This is a great starting-point if you have a problem to solve. Find out how to complain here.
Trading standards and Consumer Direct
Your local authority operates a trading standards department concerned with making sure traders stay within the law. You can find its details through the Trading Standards Institute website – however, these days many local authorities partner with the government-funded telephone service Consumer Direct to deal with individual complaints and you might find this a worthwhile place to start.
The Consumer Association, also known as Which? is a membership organisation that lobbies on behalf of consumers and also carries out extensive product tests. You’ll need to pay a subscription fee to access much of its website, but it does have an excellent consumer rights section that can provide advice if you are having problems and give you some pointers for making an effective complaint. Check it out here.

Legal redress

If nothing else works, and you’re faced with the prospect of legal action, you will need to investigate taking action through the county court – but only if you have tried to resolve your problem through means such as negotiation, mediation or arbitration – you can check out the National Mediation Helpline here. If your claim is for less than £5,000 it will be settled via the Small Claims Process – more information here.

Ensure you keep detailed records of all calls, letters or emails associated with your complaint so that you can demonstrate what you have done to settle a dispute before taking it to court – this will form an important part of your case. If you feel you have run out of alternatives, visit the government’s justice website where you will find extensive general information about making claims.

You might also want to check out the Community Legal Advice service here or visit the Legal Services Commission website for help with finding a legal adviser.