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How to file a Consumer Complaint

 

(The following is NOT legal advice and is purely for informational purposes only. Consumerdaddy is not competent to give any legal advice. For legal advice please contact a competent lawyer. Any reliance that you place on this information is at your own risk. Consumerdaddy does not guarantee the accuracy of this information and is not responsible for any consequences, actions, lack of actions, results or lack of results that you may or may not face from following information in this article.)

Stage 0: Decide To File

Stage 1: Collect Necessary Documentation

Stage 2: Send a Notice to the Company

Stage 3: Get Legal Representation

Stage 4: Prepare Your Complaint

How much time do I have?

What format should I use to prepare a complaint?

Which court should I file the complaint in?

How to find the address of the court?

Stage 5: File your Complaint

Stage 6: Attend the Admission Hearing

Stage 7: Attend Subsequent Hearings till the Verdict

Stage 8: After the Verdict



Stage 0: Decide To File

The most common emotions when you have been duped, ignored, insulted or cheated by a company from whom you bought a product is that of helplessness, anger or revenge. You may also hear yourself threatening the company about going to consumer court.

Consumerdaddy fully understands these emotions. However, a word of caution that decision to go to consumer court is one that should be taken without emotion, rationally. No matter how much the government blows its trumpets about consumer rights and consumer protection, long story short is that consumers are a helpless lot in the legal system of India. The consumer court system of our country is one of the most putrid, decadent, impersonal and sluggish systems in the world.

Of course, this is not the news you want to hear and you may still have the question whether you should go to court. If you have a case with merit against the company, the answer is a big YES.

However this yes is not without warning. For you should not expect quick results; expect to spend up to the next 5-10 years in a legal battle against the company, the long waits and to stand in long lines, to deal with corrupt court clerks and court officials, to deal with harassment from consumer court officials, to stand helplessly in over-crowded rooms without ventilation or air-conditioning, to have patience beyond you have ever known to have, and to understand the true meaning of the common politician maxim "the law will take its own course".

Even then, the merits of filing a complaint are overwhelming. At the end, the company will be made to pay for its mistakes and you (or your children or grandchildren can have the satisfaction with a full refund, and even collecting punitive damages from the company.

Whatever your decision is about filing a complaint in a consumer court, Consumerdaddy still would encourage you to take a few steps to ensure that the company pays for its mistakes and to ensure other innocent customers do not walk into the same trap of buying a product from this company. These include:

  • Filing a complaint at the Consumerdaddy website
  • Filing a complaint at other popular consumer blogs in India
  • Filing a complaint with various consumer advocacy groups in your city
  • Filing a complaint with the local police as applicable
  • Filing a complaint with the controller of legal metrology in your state as applicable
  • Opting to move your complaint to lok adalats (after you have already filed) as applicable
  • Filing a complaint with your state's Human Rights Commission
  • Filing a complaint with Ombudsman (for Insurance and Banking issues)
  • Filing a complaint with Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (for Insurance issues)
  • Filing a complaint with TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) (for Telecom issues)
  • Filing a complaint with Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) as applicable
  • Sending a detailed report of the incident to Press / Television and Radio media companies

Remember, your action of going to a website like Consumerdaddy and filing a complaint against the company will prevent up to 3000 other customers from buying any product from the company. What other better way to make the company pay for its mistake?

If your decision after reading this section is to file a complaint in a consumer court, the following article will inform you in a concise manner the various stages involved in filing a consumer complaint in the Legal System in India.



Stage 1: Collect Necessary Documentation

Before a consumer complaint can be filed against a company, you need to ensure that you have all the supporting documentation that you need. These may include the following documents related to the purchase of the product from the company:

  • An invoice or bill for the purchase (Preferably with an invoice number and Tax ID of the company)

  • Warranty card for products and SLA for services (This is optional)

  • Proof of payment such as copy of the cheque or credit card statement (This is optional)

  • Any other communication or record from the company that can show negligence, insensitivity or lack of attention from the company (Telephone call logs made to the company with long wait times, letters from company expressing uncaring attitude etc.)

  • The registered address of the company. You should be able to find this either in the above documentation, website of the company or from third party sources such as directories. Consumerdaddy itself has a large database of registered addresses of companies that you can search and find from our home page

Consumerdaddy recognizes that you are likely to misplace such documentation. In such cases, you can simply obtain a duplicate copy of the invoice / bill of purchase from the company itself by informing them that you need it for "record keeping" or "accounting purposes". More than often the company will give you a copy without knowing your intention

In case you cannot get a copy of the bill, do not worry or feel helpless. Most of the billed purchases are entered into the ledger and accounting books of the company. So when you reach a court, you may be able to retrieve the purchase information from the company's accounting system merely by quoting the serial number of the product that you purchased or even an approximate purchase date.



Stage 2: Send a Notice to the Company


In this step, you will be required to "officially" notify the company of your grievance. Be detailed about what it is that you are complaining about and what you expect the company to do. Be fair in your demands to the company. For example, if a product you purchased for Rs.10000/- is broken due to no fault of yours, ask to either replace the product or refund Rs.10000/- + a small additional sum for any inconveniences caused; do not place unreasonable demands for Rs.50000/- or so :. You are also entitled to ask for interest on any amount paid, if you think you are eligible for it.

Also, when it comes to making demands, be sure to give the company more than one option. For example, company policy might prevent them from giving you a full refund, but they may be open to giving you a replacement product that is superior to the one you purchased. In other words, the more options you give the company, the better your chances are to get your grievance addressed without going to court. When you think of the hassles of going to court, being flexible here will ultimately help you out a lot!

Your notice can be printed in English on a regular A4 size page, signed by you and sent by post to the registered address of the company. Be sure to use either registered post with acknowledgement due or speed post with tracking feature. This is important as you will need legal proof that the company has received your notice.

In your notice, you will need to also give the company some time to redress your grievance. This time should be specified as after the receipt of the notice. Again, be fair when providing time to the company. Anywhere between 15 to 45 days should be adequate depending on the gravity of the matter.

You should also be sure to mention, in a non-threatening manner, your intention to pursue the matter legally should the company fail to address your problem in the given time. The statement could be merely something like this; "You are hereby given fifteen (15) days from the receipt of this letter, to grant and process this demand, failing which, I will be forced to pursue other legal measures including filing a petition with the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (or other competent court or forum with jurisdiction) on this matter"

Important points to take care of in the notice include the following:

  • Providing clarity to the company on the nature of your grievance
  • Providing clarity to the company on how you expect the company to solve your complaint
  • Providing the time frame in which you expect the company to rectify your grievance
  • Providing a polite and stern notification that you intent to pursue the matter legally

With luck on your side, the company will respond to your notice with willingness to resolve the issue. We wish that all the consumer complaints in this country get solved in this manner, but then the chances are that you will have to read on to the next step.



Stage 3: Get Legal Representation


Consumerdaddy does not have a take on this. There are people who would advice you for and against hiring an advocate or lawyer to represent you.

The biggest advantage or hiring a lawyer is that you do not have to read the remaining of this boring article. The advocate will know what to do from here on.

The biggest disadvantage of hiring a lawyer is that good ones don't come free.

Put simply, if your case is complicated, you have less time to spare and the compensation you seek is large, hire one. If your case is simple, you can spend up to 5 full days in a year for this purpose and you are seeking low to medium compensation from the company, do it yourself.

Also, it is important to note that more than likely your city is bound to have powerful consumer advocacy and consumer action groups who, in many cases, will provide you excellent legal representation free of cost or at a very nominal rate. There are also a multitude of consumer lawyers who are dedicated to consumer rights and consumer protection issues who may pursue your case for very reasonable, if any, fees.

If you decide to get legal representation, then the remaining steps will be followed through by your lawyer.



Stage 4: Prepare Your Complaint


As you prepare your complaint, here are a few questions that may come to your mind.

  1. How much time do I have?

    According to the Indian Consumer Protection Act of 1986, clause 24A(i) a consumer court shall not admit a complaint unless it is filed within two years from the date on which the cause of action has arisen'. Interestingly it mentions only the date on which the 'cause of action' has arisen and not the date of purchase of the product from the company. So this can lead to the disputed interpretation that you need to file the complaint within two years from the time the customer has got the grievance, i.e., the time the customer started to be unsatisfied with the product of the company. For further interpretation of this clause, we recommend that you talk to a qualified legal expert.

  2. What format should I use to prepare a complaint?

    It is too much legal jargon to explain the nitty gritty details of preparing a complaint to file in the court. So we will just point you to a few good web pages that have this information already provided. You will need to prepare a complaint and an affidavit as per these suggestions. You need not file the complaint in a stamp paper. It can be filed in a regular legal size sheet or as suggested by your advocate.

  3. Which court should I file the complaint in?

    Depending on convenience, you can file the complaint in the area you purchased the product from or the area the company did the action to grievance you or any area where the company does business in. Depending on the amount of compensation you claim, you must file the complaint at appropriate courts. If the total amount (of cost and compensation) in your complaint is below Rs. 20 Lakhs, you must file the complaint with the District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. If it is between Rs. 20 Lakhs and Rs. 1 Crore, then you must file the complaint with the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. If it is more than Rs. 1 Crore, then you must file with the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

  4. How to find the address of the court?

    The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission's (NCDRC) address can be found at its website.

    Here are a few web pages that give the address of the district forums.

Stage 5: File your Complaint

There are several actions involved in this step as listed below:

  1. Along with your complaint and the affidavit, attach a list of documents you are submitting as part of the complaint file. You will need to attach copies of the evidentiary documents. Ensure that you attach only photocopies of the evidentiary documents and not the original. You may also need to sign and attach a Vakalatnama, which is similar to a power of attorney authorizing your lawyer to represent you in court on this case, should you decide to hire a lawyer.

  2. You will need to approach a Notary and get your complaint file and the affidavit notarized. The Notary who, unless known to you, will require you to show a proof of identification such as your driver's license, PAN card, passport, ration card or election ID. You will then need to the sign the complaint and the affidavit in front of the Notary after which he/she will notarize the document with his/her Notary seal and signature. Notarization is a process by which the consumer court can ascertain that you are the person you claim you are and that you have actually signed the complaint.

  3. You will then be required to make a specific number of copies of the complaint. In most cases, you will need to make a total of five copies including three for the court, one for the court to send to the company and one for yourself. We recommend that you visit the court in which you intent to file the complaint and find out exactly how many copies are needed.

  4. The next action is preparing the court fee payment. Most courts accept Demand Drafts (DD) through a Nationalized Bank duly crossed, drawn in favor of the person as shown in the table as the mode of payment. The recent fee structure is also shown in the following table. We HIGHLY recommend that you visit the court to validate these amounts and to verify the mode of payment.

    Amount of Compensation SoughtCourt Fee to be PaidCourt with JurisdictionDemand Draft drawn in the Favor of
    Up to Rs. 1 LakhRs. 100/-District Consumer Disputes Redressal ForumPresident, Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, (District Name)
    Rs. 1 Lakh to Rs. 5 LakhsRs. 200/-District Consumer Disputes Redressal ForumPresident, Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, (District Name)
    Rs. 5 Lakhs to Rs. 10 LakhsRs. 400/-District Consumer Disputes Redressal ForumPresident, Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, (District Name)
    Rs. 10 Lakhs to Rs. 20 LakhsRs. 500/-District Consumer Disputes Redressal ForumPresident, Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, (District Name)
    Rs. 20 Lakhs to Rs. 50 LakhsRs. 2000/-State Consumer Disputes Redressal CommissionRegistrar, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, (State Name)
    Rs. 50 Lakhs to Rs. 1 CroreRs. 4000/-State Consumer Disputes Redressal CommissionRegistrar, State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, (State Name)
    Above Rs. 1 CroreRs. 5000/-National Consumer Disputes Redressal CommissionRegistrar, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission


  5. The last and the most tedious action in this step is to go to the court, locate the receiving clerk, deposit your complaint file and make the court fee payment. Be sure to obtain a receipt of the payment. At this time, the clerk will also give the date a judge will first hear your case (admission hearing) and a complaint reference number.

  6. The court will then send the complaint to the company and ask them to respond to the complaint within 30 days and also to attend the admission hearing.

Stage 6: Attend the Admission Hearing

Till this point you might have got a rosy picture of the concept of consumer protection in India. From this point of time, be warned that it is going to change because you ultimately will have to lay hands on the infamous consumer court system of India.

Most of the consumer courts such as District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forums in the country operate from shacks that are in high probability a little, if not any, better than a cattle shed. Many of them do not have presiding officers for weeks, if not months continuously due to the inefficiency and irresponsibility of our government and bureaucracy. This has been raised repeatedly by consumer advocacy groups and media time and time again with very little if not any effect. We encourage you to read this article from The Hindu to get a better grasp of this issue.

Also, it is a public secret that merely depositing the court fee will not get you a complaint reference number nor the admission hearing date. You will also have to pay the unofficial "fee" or the bribe to the court clerk. It is not a secret either that the more the "unofficial fee" you are willing to pay, the higher your chances are of getting an earlier hearing date, although this is unverifiable information.

Lastly, if you are one of the most unlucky, you will also get a judge who will require you to pay the "unofficial fee" to get your case admitted, heard or disposed. There are yet others who will simply push the date of the hearing, indefinitely, before they receive their "unofficial fee". If you come across such judges, we recommend that you contact the court vigilance officers, CBI, vigilance commissions, the chief justices of the high courts or the chief justice of India, although we are very doubtful about the outcome of a complaint against a judge. We encourage you to read various publications in the media such as this article on Hindustan Times on this topic.

If your case has merits (and you're lucky not to fall in front of an unscrupulous, lazy or corrupt judge), at the admission hearing, the consumer court will admit your complaint and you will be given the date for the subsequent hearings.

We highly recommend that you do not miss the admission hearing or the subsequent hearings as if you are absent, your case will be decided in your absence (ex-parte) based on its merits. This is highly risky as the judge may fail to read some relevant portions of your complaint, or may misunderstand certain others. Remember that companies have vast resources, so it is very likely that the lawyer of the company will attend the hearing. Without you there to explain, clarify and express your grievance in person, it is very likely that the verdict will be in favor of the company.

On the date of the admission hearing, or any court hearing for that matter, we recommend you plan to spend the full day patiently in court, as it is HIGHLY UNPREDICTABLE as to when during the day your case will be called for hearing. Even a 5 minute rest room visit may cost you the hearing if you are waiting alone to be called into the court room. When attending the admission hearing, ensure that you have a copy of your complaint and all the originals of the evidentiary documents.

When called to the court room, ensure that you are earnest in your appearance and polite, respectful, and stern in your tone of voice. If you have not hired a lawyer, when asked be sure to make that clear to the judge. Remember that a judge's job is highly monotonous as they listen to hundreds of people in a day, day after day. Their attention span is very short and their patience is very low. So if you expected a pleasant smiling judge, who will give you all the time in the world, change your expectations.

Typically, your judge will review the case file and use one or both of the following two ways to gain clarity into your case:

  • Narrative: Judges using these ways will ask you to give an explanation of the problem and what solution you seek. Be sure to explain the case in a short concise manner as you have described in your complaint. Ensure that you do not contradict anything you have written in your complaint.

  • Probing: Judges using these ways will ask you short questions to clarify the merits of your case. Be short and precise in your answers. Again, be certain not to contradict yourself or your complaint.

The judge may also ask you for additional evidence or for the originals of the documents if there are any disputes regarding the authenticity of the documents. If this is the case, ensure that the documents are handed over only to court officials and not to any company official, including the company lawyer.

If your case has the merit, it will be admitted. If so, you will be given the date of the next hearing. Remember, the sole purpose of the admission hearing is to decide if you have a case or not. The actual arguments or counter arguments will all happen in the subsequent hearings.



Stage 7: Attend Subsequent Hearings till the Verdict

This shall depend on the complexity of your case, and the number of times the judge decides to postpone or conduct hearings. Typically it could be anywhere from one to seven hearings before which your case is disposed. Be sure to attend each hearing to avoid an ex-parte verdict.

The consumer court will finally reach a verdict on your case and send you and the company the court order. If the verdict is in your favor, you may be eligible for a refund, and the company may also have to pay for punitive damages that include compensating you for any mental agony, insult, inconvenience, or damage you may have suffered. In many cases, the court will also direct the company to pay for your legal and court expenses.



Stage 8: After the Verdict

Most lawyers will tell you that your actual legal battle with a company starts only after you obtain a verdict from a consumer court. Consumer court system in our country has no stalwart statutory powers to enforce their verdicts on any company. If the company does not follow the verdict of the consumer court, and neither does it file appeal within 30 days, to get a company to abide by the verdict of a consumer forum, you will have to file another proceeding to "execute the verdict" in the consumer court. Put simply, after you get a verdict from a consumer court, you will have to approach it again to issue a judgment to the company to follow the verdict of the consumer court or to face other civil and criminal penalties including attachment of properties or arrest. Sadly, this could mean another 2-5 years of your life fighting a legal battle against this company to remedy your problem. So, we wind up this article by encouraging you to check Stage 0 of this article and undertake the other recommended measures mentioned in that section. Good luck with your complaint and thank you for visiting our website.

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