How have people coped through the most challenging and volatile year in recent history?
According to the latest annual complaints data from Resolver, the answer is: remarkably patiently.
In total, 900,000 people sought help with a complaint last year, about over 150 different products and services.
Many of the main issues won’t come as a surprise to regular readers of my column, but there are also quirks and twists in the statistics.
Because behind the big numbers, the pandemic has fundamentally changed our lives – and that includes the things we seek help with.
Deliveries, face masks and refunds: shopping woes
Refund and returns issues accounted for almost a fifth of complaints to online shops, but in the main, complaints centred on delivery problems.
In fact, delivery complaints topped 206,000, with online shops accounting for more than half of these, and another 70,000 made directly to delivery firms.
Meanwhile, customer service issues topped the list for the high street shops, but we also saw complaints in the thousands over the last nine months, in particular concerning face masks – specifically the lack of enforcement of them and other members of the public not wearing them.
Travel complaints fly high
Travel agents saw a 60% rise in complaints over the year.
However, across the travel sector, charges, fees and cancellations dominated the complaints consumers made – accounting for more than three-quarters within airlines, travel agents, tour operators and hotels.
Consumers were faced with long delays to obtain refunds for cancelled holidays – and many reported feeling pushed into taking vouchers or moving holidays, despite being legally entitled to get their money back.
With restrictions on where people could and couldn’t go yo-yoing throughout the year, uncertainty was rife.
We also saw cases where flights were not cancelled despite it being illegal to travel outside of the UK at certain points in the year, pushing consumers into the decision of whether to lose money or risk travelling illegally and then invalidating any travel insurance policy they took.
Public services did not escape complaints
Complaints to significant public services were in the thousands over the year, and while those to local council services actually declined, some services saw far more significant rises.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) saw 6,000 complaints throughout 2020/21 – more than two-and-a-half times that of the previous year.
As one of the organisations that blocked contact from consumers throughout the early months of lockdown – apart from what were deemed ‘urgent’ enquiries or those from key workers – it was not surprising to see people complaining en masse through Resolver.
Subscriptions and memberships cause trouble
Some of the biggest rises in complaint volumes related to subscription services or ‘memberships.
Online dating services saw more than 5,000 complaints in the year, by far the largest rise.
Complaints centred around excessive fees and the inability to contact these services to stop renewals or try and cancel membership for a service they could not use.
This was also true of gyms and health clubs, though complaints to these services declined year-on-year.
Banking and finance complaints fall
Cases to most financial providers fell in the year, including banking, credit cards and loan and credit providers. However, one area that saw an increase was fraud – up more than 10% over the year despite the relative fall across the sector generally.
Fraud-related cases were a mixture of requests for assistance to financial providers, having been defrauded by another party, or issues with not having money returned, fraudulently opened accounts not being closed, negative impacts on credit reports and even an inability to get through emergency fraud helplines.
As we emerge from lockdown, it’s clear that there are still huge uncertainties with many of the things we took for granted.
It’s clear that businesses and vital services are going to have to work extra hard to help people in the year ahead. Let me know if they’re failing to do so.
Data compiled by Resolver’s Sarah Dennis and Martyn James. Find out more at www.resolver.co.uk.