How to Complain Threatening Legal Action
There are two kinds of complaint letters. The first kind are precisely what they say on the tin – letters that raise a complaint, written in the expectation that the issue in question can be resolved by correspondence. When that category of communication fails, the next level up is a letter by which the complainant threatens to sue. This what lawyers typically call “a letter before action”.
- What is the point in a letter before action? The answer to that is threefold. First, there are some cases where the company or person to whom your grievance is addressed will respond positively to such a letter. Although they may have palmed you off to begin with, the threat of litigation may be enough to concentrate their minds. Secondly, it is essential before starting legal action, even in the small claims court, that you write a letter before action before doing so. If you fail to do so, you face the risk of being criticised by the court and could even have a costs order made against you for “shooting from the hip”. Thirdly, a letter before action gives you an ideal opportunity to summarise your case in one neat missive that sets out your complaint clearly and concisely. This will stand you in good stead if you subsequently decide to sue.
- What should a letter before action say? It should set out the history of the complaint in brief. It should contain all the key details. If, for example, it concerns a ruined holiday, it should refer to the date the holiday was booked, the price, the length of the holiday, the substance of the complaint and finally it should, if possible, refer to an amount sought. If by way of illustration, you incurred expenses from the issue in question such as taxis or expensive phone calls, then this should be particularised.
- Finally, the letter should threaten legal action within a sensible deadline. It should state that unless you receive recompense within say 21 days, you will have no choice but to take legal action. You will then be nicely teed up to do precisely that. I make it a personal rule not to threaten something if I do not intend to follow through. There is nothing more feeble than a hollow threat.