Writing a letter of complaint 

If you have a dispute, and talking to the other party doesn’t sort out the problem, putting your complaint in writing can help by adding weight to your complaint. Even if it doesn’t change their minds, it is a useful summary of the facts if you want to take your complaint further – and sometimes a formal letter is required for the next stage in the complaints process.

Below you’ll find some tips for writing a letter of complaint. Your local CAB can help you if you aren’t sure.

Eight characteristics of an effective letter of complaint

1. Be clear and concise - only say what you need to and aim for no more than a page. Check the spelling and grammar, so that the person reading it will focus on what you are trying to say without being distracted by “typos”.

2. Be polite - rudeness will only undermine the credibility of your complaint, whereas good manners will get you further.

3. Say upfront that this is a letter of complaint, so that there can be no misunderstanding about why you are writing to them.
4. Include the basic details about what happened, when, where, and the cost involved (if relevant).

5. State what the problem is (in other words, give the reason for your complaint).

6. Say what you want them to do to fix the problem (e.g. a refund, repair). Be reasonable, fair and in proportion to the problem.

7. Include a date by which you would like them to reply to you. When you’re deciding on a deadline to give them, think about what kind of timeframe would be required by the disputes body (e.g. Financial Disputes Resolution scheme) in case you need to escalate your complaint.

8. Attach copies of any written evidence you have to back up your case e.g. receipts, invoices or contracts. Don’t send originals.

Help with writing your letter of complaint

Not confident about your letter-writing skills? Consumer NZ has a number of useful letter templates to help you develop your own letter of complaint. They have letter templates about services, goods, banking, cars and insurance.  

The Community Law website also has letter templates, covering a range of issues from tenancy through to privacy and employment.

You can also ask your local CAB to check your letter, or help you write it.