If you are in a dispute

The advice sheets below have the lastest information if you are in a dispute. If you need more advice, please call the Citizen Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

I can't contact the trader - what can I do?

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & 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 is 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 (sent by recorded delivery) 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 recorded delivery letter has been signed for.

If your email 'bounces back' or your recorded delivery 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 letter of 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 they are, 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.

Online research

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.

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. The 'Trade associations & regulatory bodies' guide gives 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, which 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).

Limited companies

With a few exceptions, if the trader is a company it should have the abbreviation 'Ltd', 'PLC' or the word 'Limited' after the company name on business documentation at the premises and on the 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. You can find out the registered office address by visiting the Companies House section of the GOV.UK website. Write to the company at the registered office.

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 be asked to complete a proof-of-debt form.

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:

  • check the company's own website for information
  • check the Companies House section of the GOV.UK website to find out if the company is insolvent and who is dealing with the case
  • if the company is in compulsory liquidation you can visit the Insolvency Service section of the GOV.UK website, telephone 0300 678 0015 or complete the online contact form for details of the official receiver's office close to where the company traded to see if it is handling the case
  • check the public notices section in The Gazette newspaper

You should write to the official receiver or insolvency practitioner to register your claim as a creditor.

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 sole trader or partner is bankrupt, you can only take court action against them if you receive consent from the court, and then only after the date of the insolvency. In the case of a partnership, it can be subject to compulsory liquidation. 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 & 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 & 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 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 & 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 & 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.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: October 2016

Please note

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 UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.