On this page: Before lodging an official complaint Lodging an official complaint with Consumer and Business Services (CBS) After you have lodged an official complaint Compulsory conciliation conferences If a dispute can not be resolved Going to court Serving a claim Defending a claim
Before lodging an official complaint
You should try to resolve the problem by talking to the tradesperson or builder in a calm and courteous manner as soon as possible in the first instance. Explain the problem and offer some solutions that will satisfy you. If possible speak to a manager or supervisor. You should keep an open mind when considering solutions.
Before you speak to the trader:
- make sure all the information you have is correct
- gather all the relevant paperwork - eg receipts, contract, order forms
- keep a record of who you spoke to, when you spoke to them and what was discussed - eg what did they suggest.
If you can’t come to an agreement after speaking to the trader or their company you should put your complaint in writing and address it to the company’s manager. Ask for a written response within a specific time limit and give them reasonable time to fix the problem.
When putting a complaint in writing:
- write as soon as possible
- include your name and contact details
- quote any account information - eg account number, invoice numbers, date and place of purchase
- clearly identify the problem and what you want the trader to do to resolve it
- be concise and specific - eg quote the date of events and circumstances around the complaint
- include copies of any relevant documentation - eg receipts, order forms
- provide a copy of any independent expert reports or advise if you will be seeking independent expert advice
- set a reasonable deadline for them to respond
- keep a copy of your letter as a record of your attempt to try to settle the matter.
[top of page]
Lodging an official complaint with Consumer and Business Services (CBS)
CBS handles disputes around the purchase of consumer products and services - eg domestic building services.
CBS can only assist with complaints if:
- the goods or services were advertised and purchased in South Australia
- legal action has not commenced
- the goods or services were not purchased for business purposes.
You will usually need to be able to demonstrate that you have made a reasonable attempt to resolve the problem first - eg a copy of the letter sent to the trader or the company, before CBS can offer assistance.
You can lodge an official complaint
by contacting CBS. You will be sent a request for assistance form to complete and return to CBS along with any copies of relevant documents - eg contract, complaint letter, receipts.
[top of page]
After you have lodged an official complaint
After a request for assistance has been returned to CBS they may be able to help as a neutral and objective third party. They can provide you and the trader with advice and information to try to reach an acceptable solution.
You and the trader must be willing to participate in these negotiations. Most disputes are successfully resolved at this stage. Traders cannot be forced to agree to a settlement - only the courts are able to impose legally binding decisions.
How long the process takes will depend on how complex the situation is. You will be provided with regular updates on the progress of the negotiations.
After a complaint is lodged you will receive written confirmation that your complaint has been accepted. The case officer who is managing your complaint will:
- clarify the facts and gather information
- discuss with you the trader’s response to the complaint
- provide advice and information
- suggest alternative acceptable solutions
- determine if you need to get a report from an expert to support your complaint
- attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution with you and the trader
- advise you in writing once the matter has been finalised that the case has been closed.
Your solutions and expectations should be realistic. You may be asked to:
- write to the trader again during the conciliation process
- arrange inspections
- contact other organisations to support your case
- get independent reports from experts to support your case and cover the costs associated with this.
Even if your dispute can't be resolved the reports, letters and information obtained during this process may still be useful as supporting evidence should you decide to take the matter to court.
Any information gathered by CBS during the complaint investigation will be kept strictly confidential. It will not be available to other people under freedom of information. Some information must be provided to the trader to negotiate a solution. If you don't want certain information to be given to the trader you must make this clear to your case officer.
Special assistance can be arranged to ensure all customers can access these services in a fair and equitable manner. The process will be adapted to accommodate all consumers including:
- older persons
- people with an intellectual or physical disability
- people with mental health considerations
- people from a non-English speaking background.
If a trader does not participate in this resolution process the Commissioner of Consumer Affairs can call a compulsory conciliation conference as an immediate alternative to legal action.
[top of page]
Compulsory conciliation conferences
The Commissioner of Consumer Affairs will take certain points into consideration before calling a compulsory conciliation conference. These include:
- the number of complaints against a trader
- any conduct that may be in breach of legislation - eg Fair Trading Act 1987
- whether a trader has a poor approach to customer complaint handling
- any other relevant factors.
Attendance at a conciliation conference is compulsory. If you don’t attend without a reasonable excuse CBS may decide to take no further action. If you have a valid reason for not attending then rescheduling is usually possible. If a trader doesn’t attend without a reasonable excuse they risk being fined up to $10,000.
The Commissioner for Consumer Affairs will decide how the conference takes place - eg telephone, video conferencing.
If an agreement is reached during a compulsory conciliation conference it will be:
- signed by you, the trader and the Commissioner
- copied and a copy given to you and the trader.
Each party is expected to fulfil the terms of the agreement. If they don’t, you or the Commissioner may apply to the Magistrates’ Court for an order to legally enforce the terms of the agreement.
[top of page]
If a dispute can not be resolved
If an agreement cannot be reached at the conference the Commissioner will likely cease to be involved. It will be up to you and the trader to decide if you want to take any further action - eg civil legal action.
Your case officer will be able to give you advice around the options available if you want to continue with the dispute.
[top of page]
Going to court
Court action can be stressful, expensive and time consuming and is usually the last resort when all other means of resolution have been exhausted. Seeking redress through the courts can be a long and difficult process with no guarantee of success. These matters can take a considerable amount of time to resolve and can be frustrating for all parties involved.
If you decide to bring the matter to court it is recommended that you seek independent legal advice before lodging a claim. CBS can not provide you with legal advice or assistance in court matters.
Some information gathered by CBS during the course of the dispute resolution may be accessed by law enforcement authorities or by an order of a court. If you want to use your case file in court action you will need to ask the court to subpoena the file and your case officer to present it in evidence.
An individual, organisation or business can lodge a final notice of claim with the Magistrates Court prior to issuing a formal claim. This is to encourage parties to resolve their dispute without having to resort to a formal legal claim.
This notice can be issued for $12 online at the Courts Administration Authority website
or over the counter at any South Australian Magistrates Court Registry.
Before you issue a notice you must know all of these things:
- the name and address of the person you wish to make the claim against
- the basis on which this person owes you money
- the amount you want to claim.
You should give the other party 21 days' notice in writing of an intended claim.
A directions hearing will be organised to determine the status of the action and explore possible avenues of reaching a settlement to the dispute. If a settlement can't be reached, a date will be set to define and resolve the issues if possible, or a trial date will be set.
You must attend the court in person on the date arranged. If you fail to attend within 15 minutes of the appointed time decisions can be made in your absence.
You are referred to as the plaintiff and the party you are claiming against is the defendant.
[top of page]
Serving a claim
A claim can be served by:
- the court on your behalf at no extra cost
- a sheriff’s officer with an extra cost
- you or another person on your behalf.
Once a claim has been filed you are in charge of the matter yourself. The defendant has 21 days to either:
- pay the full amount of the claim to you or come to an acceptable agreement
- defend the claim
- do nothing.
[top of page]
Defending a claim
If you are the defendant and are defending a claim, a copy of your defence will be sent to the plaintiff. You will get notification of when you will need to attend court. If you don't attend, the matter will be heard and a decision made in your absence.
If the other party has documentation you need you can write to them requesting to see it.
Minor civil claims are heard in an informal manner. At the trial neither party is permitted to have a lawyer present unless both parties agree to be represented. A magistrate will listen to the facts presented, ask questions, view the relevant documentation and decide the outcome.
If you do not respond within the 21 days the plaintiff can go to a Magistrates Court registry and ask for a judgement to be made in their favour.
[top of page]
On this siteThe legal system
Other websitesCourts Administration Authority
DownloadsSample letter of complaint to a builder
(PDF 124KB) What to do if things go wrong
For an alternative version of these documents contact Consumer and Business Services
(Consumer Affairs).Need legal help?
(PDF 175KB) Going to court
For an alternative version of these documents contact the Legal Services Commission of South Australia
LegislationFair Trading Act 1987