Disagreements are a fact of life. Most of the time people are able to resolve matters between themselves without turning them into full blown legal disputes. But unfortunately this isn't always the case, and matters can escalate when points of view are not appreciated or legal rights are felt to have been breached.
Decisions then have to be made about when to escalate matters and seek legal advice.
However before issuing the war cry 'You'll be hearing from my solicitor!' take a moment, consider your options, and try to keep a few things in mind.
Keep calm and carry on talking.
Whether your dispute is with an individual (such as a friend or family member), a small business (a tradesperson) or a large company, anger and stress won't help. Clouded judgement and impulsive action will usually only make matters worse and provide a bad impression of your reasonableness.
Keep focused on the specific issue and try to engage in calm and polite discussions with the individual or business representative. Tell them your problem, what action it will take from them to resolve it, and make sure you listen to their response or any alternatives offered.
Use the correct channels as a customer.
Talk to the right person or department about your issue. For example if your dispute is about a faulty item you have purchased, then a manager or dedicated customer service representative will be better placed to help you get it replaced than a member of the sales team.
Likewise if you've had poor work performed by a tradesperson, then the customer service team or owner of the small business may be the most appropriate person to speak to.
If you are not sure who to talk to, make polite enquiries until you find the right person.
After these initial conversations if you still cannot get the matter resolved, ask whether there is a formal complaints procedure that you can follow. This may then reveal if there is an independent trade body, regulator or ombudsman that you can escalate your complaint to for resolution.
Disputes with friends or family.
If a dispute arises between you and a friend or family member, there unfortunately won't be a dedicated complaints department that can help resolve the issue. However this doesn't mean you should move straight to legal action.
Often disputes between individuals relate to money being owed. In these cases you should remain polite and sympathetic in your requests for repayment along with being open to receiving payments in instalments or over a longer period of time.
Should an agreement then be reached, you need to ensure this is documented in writing (messages, emails, text etc.) and further information can be found in our guide what to do when money is owed by a friend.
Don't make threats.
Try not to talk about taking legal action, suing them, or dragging them in court until you have tried everything you can reasonably do to resolve the matter. Taking an adversarial approach at the very start may limit your options for a quick, simple and cost effective solution.
If an ombudsman does become involved in a consumer issue, they may recommend mediation to resolve the dispute which you should be open to.
Keep a record of events.
If matters do need legal action and in extreme cases have to go to court, you will need to provide evidence of the problem. So keeping notes, photographs, documents and anything else that is relevant will be important. This documentation will also help you demonstrate all you have done to try to resolve the issue before being forced in taking legal action.
Make notes of any conversations you have with the date/time and who you spoke to, also keep copies of any letters, emails or messages you have sent.
You will be hearing from my solicitor!
If you have satisfied yourself that you have done absolutely everything possible to sort things out but have been met with no success, then it's time to contact a solicitor for legal advice.
If you have a solid case then quite often a letter from a law firm can bring surprisingly quick and positive results and won't cost the earth. But depending how far you wish to pursue the matter, it could ultimately end up in court which will take time and money (see our guide on how much it costs to take someone to the Small Claims Court).
A solicitor will be able to advise you fully on your dispute, including your chances of a successful legal claim, the evidence that will be needed and what costs are involved.
Knowing when to seek legal advice will help you in the long run, just don't take legal action first or in anger!
Catalyst Law are team of legal professionals with over 20 years' experience helping businesses and people with their legal problems.
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