It’s all well and good being a consumer rights expert, but I have to put my money where my mouth is and actually follow my own advice. In addition, when I deal with my own problems or complaints, I make a point of never revealing what I do for a living so I experience what everyone else is going through.

That’s why I’ve spent the first week of January in a filthy mood.

In the process of sticking to my own guidance on switching providers, sorting out complaints and streamlining my life I have spent:

  • 5 hours on the phone (mostly on hold).
  • 4 days waiting at home for engineers, deliveries and collections (three of which didn’t occur).
  • 3 hours writing complaints, locating evidence and digging out supporting documentation.

Readers: I am fed up.

However, the experiences of the past week have inspired me to tackle something that doesn’t come naturally to me: getting organised. I’ve also summoned my fellow expert colleagues from TV and radio to get their tips on ‘good housekeeping’.

Here are our tips to help you minimalise the disruption that businesses cause to your lives, simplify your financial commitments and win back some time and peace of mind.

Register guarantees and warranties

I often write about your rights when goods or services don’t work, are misrepresented or aren’t as advertised. Your rights to a refund in these circumstances are really strong (a full refund in the first 30 days, one shot at a repair/replacement in the first six months, then a full refund if that fails). However, once we drift past the first six months you can still ask for repairs or replacements but the onus shifts to you to prove that the item has packed in through no fault of your own.

Goods should last for a ‘reasonable’ amount of time – but that’s pretty subjective. So if you want to avoid interminable conversations with manufacturers then take some time to register your goods when you buy them.

Pretty much every electronic device – and most things that cost over £30 – will have some form of guarantee. However, you usually have to go online and register the item to activate it. This can be a bit of a faff, but it’s worth it. Oh, and keep those guides and documents handy in one place. That Christmas selection box with two coffee creams rattling around in it will do nicely.

Look ahead and break things down

Sorting out your life laundry isn’t just about January. I spoke to leading consumer rights campaigner and journalist Sarah Pennells who says: “Think about December 31st 2023. What would you like to have done with your money? Where would you like to be financially? Do you want a bigger cushion of savings, to be able to retire before you get your state pension or is your priority to be debt free?

The cost-of-living crisis is affecting us all, but it’s harder to improve your financial position if you don’t have a goal. Whatever you’d like to achieve with your money by the end of the year, break it down into smaller goals to make it more achievable”.

Prioritising is as vital as budgeting when it comes to ensuring the year ahead goes smoothly. Times Money Mentor has guides that answer all of these priorities and more on the website. You can read more of Sarah’s top tips here (I’m stealing them as we speak).

Consolidate

I’m pretty easily distracted by new things and loathe to give up on businesses, apps and websites I’ve previously committed to. That’s how I ended up with five bank accounts, four saving accounts and three credit cards (zero balance – I learned that lesson many years ago). I’ve also got a plethora of Open Banking apps to help me manage my finances or make savings. Frankly, it’s all a bit cluttered.

So be brutal when it comes to the tools you use to manage your finances. Look at which accounts, sites and apps are actually providing the best service for you. Do a bit of research online to see if there are better options out there and then get rid of anything you don’t need. I recommend having one bank account for day-to-day spending and one solely for bills and regular payments. Transfer all your regular payments over to the bill payment account and make a point of checking it each month to ensure that you’re on top of any errors or mistakes made by businesses.

Consolidate your credit card debts on to one interest-free credit card if you can. Bear in mind you’ll pay transfer fees for this so work out what they are before you commit. You can do ‘soft’ credit checks before applying so you have an idea of whether you’ll succeed without damaging your credit report. And if you have a zero balance, have a look at the cards that offer perks, like air miles, discounts and cashback.

Plan for the worst

Legal expert Gary Rycroft suggests planning for the worst and hoping for the best. “We might not want to think about the worst things that could happen to us or the people we love, but asking these difficult questions now can save you a lot of time and heartache, further down the line,” Gary told me:

“After the last few years, we’ve all been through a lot. Though we’ve turned a corner, life has a habit of getting in the way, so I’d implore everyone to do a ‘What if something happens to me or I die’ audit. In other words:

  • Do I have a Will & is it up to date?
  • If I die who will pay the mortgage and other bills?
  • Do I have adequate life insurance or other similar benefits (like ‘death in service’ with an employer?)

I’m vividly aware that this isn’t cheery, but to know loved ones will be looked after in a worst-case scenario is SO important for peace of mind for everyone. It’s actually not that complicated or expensive to make these arrangements too.”

Claim compensation for missed appointments

Did you know that for broadband, energy, water and other key utilities, there is compensation for missed appointments and service outages? In many instances, this should be paid automatically. In practice, it isn’t. So double check and pursue any unpaid compensation you are owed. Here’s what you’re entitled to:

Some councils, housing associations and other organisations also compensate for missed appointments, failed repairs and system problems, so if you’ve been left waiting, check out your rights online.

Password protection

Technology is not a friend of mine, so I asked top techspert David McClelland for his password tips.

“Spring cleaning season may still be a couple of months away, but there is really no time like the present to tidy up your online life. Securing your logins is a great place to start. From email and social media accounts to online banking, our usernames and passwords are the keys that unlock our digital lives, so it pays to make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

My three top tips to keep your online logins safe:

  1. Never reuse the same password for different online accounts – make sure every account is secured using a unique, difficult-to-guess passphrase.
  2. Use a trustworthy ‘password manager’ app; these digital safes remember your credentials so you don’t have to and even create complicated passwords on your behalf.
  3. Enable ‘multi-factor authentication’ for online accounts that support it (most of the main online services do); as well as a username and password, you’ll be sent a code to your mobile or asked to authenticate using an app on your phone.

While there is no such thing as 100% security, employing these tips will give you the best chance of keeping hackers and identity fraudsters at bay”.

Don’t get mad, just bail

I’ve had some rather snippy responses to a number of the enquiries I sent recently, including a spectacularly rude email from a theatre chain and a rather bitchy one from a gym.

Annoying as this is, don’t waste your precious time stressing out about it. In almost every business sector there’s lots of competition, so walk away and start afresh. If you want to stick the knife in on the way out, then ask for the head office email address or failing that, use good old social media to send a message saying ‘this is why I’m no longer doing business with you’ and leave it at that. If enough people vote with their feet, then businesses will feel it.

Make a template

Lots of readers tell me they simply lose the will to make a complaint after being browbeaten by baffling business websites, chatbots from hell or hours on the phone on hold. But making a complaint really is worth taking the time to do. Not only do you get a bit of closure, you’re registering your dissatisfaction in black and white terms. In 2023, the more people that do this, the more businesses have to listen.

But complaining doesn’t have to be an industry. Make a standard complaint template, that features:

  • Name / contact details
  • Account/product/reference number
  • 5-10 bullet points about what went wrong
  • What you want to sort things out

Templates give you structure and more importantly, make things much quicker. They also help you get your thoughts in order.

Don’t forget that in many sectors there’s a free ombudsman service or alternative dispute resolution service that you can ask to look at your complaint. So don’t give up!

Featured in Times Money Mentor – Martyn James

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