Information is available from the Trading Standards Institute to help consumers. Please note the county council is not responsible for this information.
In the guide
This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
There are laws that give you rights and remedies when you make a contract with a trader for the supply of goods, services and digital content. You may be entitled to a refund if you do not receive the goods you ordered, the digital content you downloaded or the service you paid for. You may be entitled to a repair, replacement or another remedy if the goods or digital content are faulty or if the service you receive is below standard. In all these circumstances, it can be very frustrating if you are unable to contact the trader to make a complaint. Has the trader ceased trading because they cannot not pay their debts when they are due; in other words is the trader insolvent?
The law that deals with insolvency, whether the trader is acting as a sole trader, a partnership or a company is the Insolvency Act 1986. If you are owed money by a trader, you are classed as a 'creditor' and can register a claim with an official receiver or an insolvency practitioner, depending on who is dealing with the case.
This guide gives you advice on what to do if you cannot contact a trader or if a trader has ceased trading.
Send an email or letter
If you have not received the goods, services or digital content and you cannot contact the trader by phone or text, you can send an email or write a letter (preferably using a signed-for service) to all email addresses or postal addresses you have for the trader. If the trader's website has an online contact form, use it but keep a note of what you sent.
Check the Royal Mail website to track whether your letter has been signed for.
If your email 'bounces back' or your letter is returned 'gone away' this may be an indication that the trader is no longer trading. However, you will need to establish whether the trader is simply ignoring you.
The 'Writing an effective complaint' guide includes templates you can use for your letter or email.
Visit the trader
If it is practical to do so, you can visit the trader to see if the premises they are trading from are still open. If it is, you can complain in person, hand over a letter (keep a copy for yourself) confirming the details of your complaint and set a deadline for the trader to contact you. If the premises are closed, check the door and windows to see if a notice has been posted giving information about whether the business is still trading or if it has relocated. If it is visible to you, check at the bottom of the door to see if there is any uncollected post; this may be an indicator that the trader has vacated the premises. It is still worth hand-delivering a letter as the trader may return to collect the post.
Check with neighbouring traders to see if they have any information that may be of use to you.
If you believe the trader has given a false trading address (perhaps the premises appear derelict or are occupied by another trader who has been there for some time) report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service so the matter can be referred to trading standards.
A good source of information is the internet. If you have had a problem contacting a trader there is a good chance other consumers have had a similar problem. It may confirm that the trader has gone out of business, relocated, been taken over or is slow to respond to consumer complaints.
Make use of online maps with street view to see if you can locate the trader's premises at the address they claim to be at, although you should bear in mind that the map may not be up-to-date.
Post a request for information about the trader on social media. Someone may have useful information that helps you take your complaint further.
Trade association or regulatory body
If the trader is a member of a trade association or regulatory body, contact that organisation for information. If the trader has ceased trading, the organisation may have a payment protection scheme that you can claim from. See the 'Trade associations and regulatory bodies' guide for more information.
Has the trader been taken over?
If a trader takes over the business or the trading name of another trader, they are not usually responsible in law for any breaches of contract (such as non-delivery of goods, problems with a digital download or failure to supply a service) that occurred before the business takeover. The trader may offer you a settlement on a goodwill basis or direct you to the body that is handling the insolvency, either an official receiver or an insolvency practitioner (see the Insolvency Service section of the GOV.UK website).
With a few exceptions, if the trader is a company it should have 'Ltd', 'PLC' or 'Limited' after the company name on business documentation at their premises and on their website. The company may have a different registered office address to the address where it normally trades. This may be an accountant's or a solicitor's office where documents can be served on the company. Companies House keeps a record of the registered office address as well as the correspondence address for each officer of the company. You can find out the registered office address and any correspondence addresses by visiting the Companies House section of the GOV.UK website. Write to the company at the registered office and the correspondence addresses.
If the company is trading under administration or is no longer trading because it is in receivership or liquidation, the official receiver or insolvency practitioner appointed to deal with the case should contact you automatically if they know that you are a 'creditor' (in other words, that you are owed money). You will need to complete a proof of debt form if you are owed more than £1,000. If it is less than this amount, you can give details to the person dealing with the case.
If you think that a company might be in administration or no longer trading, but you have not heard from the official receiver or insolvency practitioner, you can:
For more information on insolvency procedures see the 'Insolvency' guide and visit the Insolvency Service section of the GOV.UK website.
Sole trader or partnership
If the trader is a sole trader or a partnership, they may still be liable to you even if they are no longer trading. Find out the circumstances behind why the trader stopped trading. If a trader has been issued with a bankruptcy order by the court, you can register as a creditor. This does not mean that you will definitely receive a payment. You will be kept informed about developments with the case and you can vote on decisions at any creditors' meetings. Check with the Insolvency Service to see if the trader has gone bankrupt or if they are subject to other insolvency proceedings.
See the 'Thinking of suing in the court?' guide for more information on court action.
Payment by credit / debit card or finance agreement
If you pay for the goods, service or digital content by credit card or on finance arranged by the trader and if it costs more than £100 but less than £30,000, you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Section 75 of the Act makes the finance provider as responsible as the trader for a breach of contract or a misrepresentation. You are entitled to take action against the trader, the finance provider or both. This does not apply to charge cards or debit cards.
If you use a debit card to purchase the goods, service or digital content or if you use a credit card and the price of the goods is less than £100 (your rights under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply) you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract (goods are not delivered, are faulty or the trader has ceased trading for example) you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim
If you are dissatisfied with the finance provider's response and the Consumer Credit Act 1974 applies then complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service .
If you used an online payment method such as PayPal to buy the goods, service or digital content, consider using its dispute resolution process.
Guarantees and warranties
If you can no longer contact the trader and you think they may have gone out of business, you may be able to claim from a guarantee or warranty if you were given one.
A guarantee provider, which may be the manufacturer, usually undertakes to carry out free repairs for a set period of time for problems that can be attributed to manufacturing defects. An insurance-backed guarantee provides you with protection if the trader that provided the goods or service under guarantee ceases to trade and can no longer fulfil its obligations under the guarantee. The insurance company underwrites the terms of the guarantee for the remainder of the guarantee period. A warranty or extended warranty is a form of insurance policy that provides cover for the unexpected failure or breakdown of goods, usually after the manufacturer or trader's guarantee has run out.
The 'Guarantees and warranties' guide gives more information.
The trader is still trading but will not respond
If you have not received the goods, service or digital content you have paid for or you have difficulty getting a response from the trader, these may be first indicators that the business is in trouble. Never make any up-front cash payments, e-payments or bank transfers if the trader unexpectedly asks you to. If the amount requested is over £100, pay by credit card.
It may simply be that the trader's customer service is poor and that your complaint is being ignored.
In either event for further advice report your complaint to the Citizens Advice consumer service.
Where can I find out more about my legal rights?
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives you rights when you make a contract with a trader for the supply of goods, services and digital content.
The 'Sale and supply of goods: your consumer rights', 'Supply of digital content: your consumer rights' and 'Supply of services: your consumer rights' guides give more information on your rights and remedies.
The 'Sale and supply of goods: what to do if things go wrong', 'Supply of digital content: what to do if things go wrong' and 'Supply of services: what to do if thing go wrong' guides give you a clear direction to follow when you want to complain.
Last reviewed / updated: September 2020
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
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The county council is not responsible for this information.