Re-gain your complaining confidence

Lost your moaning mojo since becoming a mum? Follow these top tips to make sure you get the service you want, every time

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  • Us Brits are rubbish at complaining. Whether it’s bad food, bad service or just a complete rip-off, we’d generally rather slink away than make a scene. Add in a child, and we’re doubly likely to want to avoid confrontation. An “I know my rights!” rant doesn’t carry quite the same weight when your toddler’s tugging on your sleeve, yelling for a wee, or your baby starts wailing in the middle of your arm-waving. But now you’ve got a family to think about every penny counts, so if you want to get the value for money you deserve, here’s how to negotiate the negotiations…

  • At the hairdresser

    You’ve been concentrating more on making sure your little one isn’t playing skittles with the neatly stacked shampoo display than concentrating on yourself in the mirror and now, horror of horrors, you look like Lady Gaga on a bad day.

    “Talk to your hairdresser and explain politely and firmly why you’re unhappy with your style,” says celebrity hairdresser Lee Stafford. “If when talking to them you feel that they’re not listening to your concerns or that they’re not willing to take any responsibility, ask to speak to the salon manager. You’ve paid for a service and you’re entitled to receive what you’ve paid for. But do be honest with yourself about whether you correctly communicated what it was you were expecting.”

    And what if you’ve restless tot troubles? “It’s acceptable to ask to come back at a more convenient time to discuss your concerns,” says Lee. “You’ve received, and maybe paid for, a service you’re not happy with and the stylist should make the time to rectify your issue. It’s a basic rule of customer service.”

  • In a restaurant

    “How’s the pasta?” asks your waiter. “Mmm, lovely!” you gulp, while trying to chew on the rubbery, luke-warm dish in question. Well, your little one is misbehaving and you don’t want to draw any attention to yourself.

    “If your food is poorly cooked, complain immediately and you’ve a right to claim a full or partial refund depending on the problem,” says Wendy Alcock, senior researcher at “If your food was just average rather than shockingly poor, one way to get a reduction is not to pay the service charge,” she says. “If having your kids with you is making negotiations harder or you feel forced into paying anyway, then pay ‘under protest’ and dispute the cost later.”

  • At the shops

    Whether you bought it on your own in a rare bout of non-buggy-in-tow shopping or it was a quick ‘grab and pay’ while out with your tot, you’ve now decided you don’t want that new leopard-print top that seemed such a good idea. But that’s OK, you can take it back, can’t you? Actually, not always, says Joanne Lezemore, solicitor at Which? Legal Service.

    Shops don’t have to take back goods that aren’t faulty, though many stores will. Each one will have it’s own returns policy, and it’s up to you to know it before you buy. The policy should be somewhere visible. If it’s not, ask,” says Joanne. “If you’re in a shop and the assistant says it’s OK to return something, ask them to write that on the receipt. Then you’ll have proof if you do want to return it.”

    “It’s unlikely you’ll be able to try something on if you’re shopping with your young child,” adds Joanne. “So read the returns policy to avoid embarrassment.” But what if the shop doesn’t have a returns policy? “This doesn’t mean you can’t ask,” says Wendy. “Shops would rather keep customers happy than be sticklers for these rules as they consider all customers to be potential clients who’ll buy their products again and again so ask politely and you may get what you want.”

    As regards goods you’ve bought online, you usually have seven days’ grace to return something – check the small print.

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  • At the garage/with tradesmen

    You got the quote for the MOT work or cleaning the guttering. You even made sure you got it in writing. So when you turn up to collect the car or get home to the workman, pushchair and (so far) well-behaved tot in tow, you’re stumped when the bill you’re presented with is more. The tradesman tells you more work needed doing than quoted for, and because it’s now been done you need to pay up. So do you? “If you’re not happy, the last thing you want is to make a fuss while you have your baby or toddler with you,” says Joanne. “What you can do is pay under protest. You tell them that you’ll pay, but say it’s ‘under protest’ and that you will be putting a complaint to them 
in writing.

    “Then, when you get home, draft a letter of complaint. If you just pay without saying anything and then try to complain later, you’ll find it a lot harder.” That’s because by paying you accept the work. “If this still doesn’t help sort things, you’ve a few other options,” says Wendy. “If you’re unhappy with a garage, is it part of a trade association such as Motor Codes Limited? 

    Did the work cost over £100 and you paid by credit card? If so, your card company’s jointly liable with the retailer (due to Section 75) if something goes wrong, so you can complain to them instead.”

  • Mum’s story

    “The BOGOF offers were a godsend for me when Cerys was a baby. One time though I was sure I’d been overcharged. As Cerys was crying it was a bit hard to check the receipt properly, but I made sure I did it when I went home and my suspicions were right. So I kept the receipt and then headed back to get my refund when Cerys was in a better mood.”

    Siân Lyde, 36, from Epsom, mum to Cerys, 2

  • The law

    “There are two main laws that protect consumers when things go wrong,” says Wendy Alcock of “The Sale of Goods Act says that goods should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for the purpose and last a reasonable length of time.

    The Supply of Goods and Services Act demands that any service should be carried out with reasonable care and skill, within a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost.” 

  • Dos & don’ts to get what you want

    • DO ask as you go along 

    If something’s not right but not finished yet (e.g. a haircut), don’t hesitate to  get it changed it before it gets worse.

    • DO get things in writing

From quotes to exactly what work you are going to have done, you need to get it written down.

    • DON’T lose your temper

If you think you’re on edge, stay away from the returns queue.

    • DON’T do any complaining on a weekend if possible 

    Stores are usually too busy, so if you can, go on a weekday for a better response.

    • DO take a name 

    Being able to name somebody who said something to you, gives you control (especially when you’re on the phone to a service provider, for example).

    • DON’T say yes straight away if you don’t want to 

    It’s OK to say you’ll have a think about it, or you’d like to look around.

    • DON’T threaten

You won’t get what you want by being vocal and angry – you’ll just look like a stressed, confused mum.


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