A letter of complaint is a common task in General Training IELTS Task 1.
Examples include letters of complaint to
- a neighbour (e.g. noise problem)
- a landlord (e.g. something needs to be fixed)
- a shop
- a restaurant
- a public transport or service provider (e.g. bus or train company)
- the local council (e.g. littering, bin collections)
Look at the question below and follow my steps to write an effective letter of complaint.
You are a student at an English language school in London and you have been experiencing some problems in the flat. Write a letter to the landlord. In your letter
- State your reason for writing
- Describe the problems and explain how you feel
- Propose a solution and ask the landlord to take action
It is very important to get the opening and closing of a letter correct, as this sets the tone for the rest of the letter.
If you start with a very formal tone (Dear Sir or Madam) you must maintain that tone throughout (see How to use a formal or informal tone)
How would you start the letter above?
I would guess that you know your landlord‘s (first?) name, but for IELTS it’s probably safer to use Dear Mr/Mrs Smith and maintain a semi-formal tone.
The same goes for your neighbour – this could depend on their age/how well you know them, so the rules are quite relaxed.
But for a bus company, shop or the council use ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
*Never start a letter with ‘Greetings!’. This is old-fashioned and inappropriate for any kind of letter.
‘Greetings’ simply means the way you ‘greet’ someone, or the way you open a letter.
2. Reason for writing
- I am writing to complain about..
- I am writing regarding…
- I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with…
You may also need to introduce yourself (see the model below – it’s a good time to use Present Perfect e.g. to say how long you’ve been renting).
3. Introducing the complaint
Start by saying something positive if you want to, and then lead into the problem e.g.
I was extremely happy with the (phone/flat) when I (bought it/moved in). However, I soon started experiencing a number of problems.
4. The first complaint
- Firstly/First of all
- The first problem/complaint/concern is…
- The first thing I would like to draw your attention to is…
You may not have any other complaints, but it’s good to give further evidence to justify your complaint.
5. And another thing!
- Secondly/ Also/ In addition (to this),
- To make matters worse,
- Not only was it (cold), it was also (noisy).
Take great care when you start with ‘Not only‘ – it causes ‘inversion’ (see my full lesson on How to use ‘not only…but also’).
Normal word order: IT WAS cold.
Inversion: Not only WAS IT cold,…
6. Mentioning the consequences
- I’m afraid that…
- … which means that(I can no longer work from home)
- As a consequence, (I was late for class).
7. Reporting what's been said
This is a whole other lesson (coming next), as there are many ways of reporting what you were told by the shop manager or by the bus driver.
Here are a few patterns you can use:
- I was promised a refund.
- The shop assistant promised me a refund.
- Your sales manager promised to get in touch.
- You promised me that you would fix the heating.
Notice the tense change from:
Direct speech: ‘I’ll fix it’.
Indirect speech: ‘You said you would fix it’.
8. Expressing dissatisfaction
- I am very disappointed (with the phone).
- I am not at all pleased (with/about the outcome/decision).
- I am deeply unhappy (about the way I was treated).
9. Asking for action
- I suggest that you replace the item.
- I therefore suggest that I be given a full refund.
- I would be grateful if you could give me a full refund
- I would like to request that you send me a replacement
- I would ask you to fix the problem as a matter of urgency.
- To resolve the problem, I would appreciate it if you could
- Unless the problem can be fixed in the next few days, we will be forced to (find alternative accommodation/contact the council/report you).
10. Ending the letter
- I look forward to hearing from you.
- I look forward to receiving (a full refund/a replacement/ an apology/ your explanation).
- I look forward to your reply and a resolution to my problem.
Yours sincerely, … (you know the name of the person you are writing to)
Yours faithfully, ... (you don’t know the name)
Regards or Best regards is also totally acceptable.
Dear Mr Smith
I am one of the tenants at your property in Brick Lane, and am writing to complain about the fact that we have not had any hot water or heating in our house for the past 2 weeks. This is making our lives very uncomfortable, especially as it is the middle of winter.
As you know, we’ve been living in this house since June, and have always paid our bills and rent on time. Ten days ago you promised to send a workman to our house within 2 days but no one came. After calling many times, the workman eventually arrived at the house five days later. Unfortunately he said he could not fix the problem because the water heater was too old. We are now extremely unhappy about this situation.
We are unable to go on living in the house in these conditions and we would ask you to fix the problem as a matter of urgency. Unless the heater is fixed or replaced within the next 24 hours, we will be forced to look for alternative accommodation. We also request a 50% refund on our rent for the period we have been without any hot water or heating.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Listen to the full podcast here
In a nutshell
- Dear ______
- Introduce yourself
- Explain the problem
- Express dissatisfaction
- Report actions taken
- Request further action
- Remain polite
Get the full GT Writing Course with feedback and Speaking lessons in The Members Academy.
Need help with Formal and Informal Writing?
My 28-Day General Training Writing Course is designed to help you develop your ability to write in both formal, informal and semi-formal styles.
It takes you step by step through both Task 1 and Task 2 with
- daily videos
- daily emails
- daily tasks
- daily worksheets
- access to me
- closed Facebook group