Writing a formal letter of Complaint
123 Filmore Road
5th September 2022
Feel Free Travel
253B Delaware Buildings
Dear Sir / Madam,
I’m writing to express my dissatisfaction at the service I received on my holiday with Feel Free Travel. My friend and I went on the 8-day tour of Greece, reference GR36A, from the 5th to the 13th of August and we were extremely disappointed with the accommodation and the food.
First of all, your brochure said that we would stay in ‘clean, mid-range hotels’. However, my bedroom was dirty in the Olympia Hotel, and the Opera Hotel was in a noisy and unsafe part of town, which made me feel very anxious.
Secondly, although the brochure stated that all meals were included, I was shocked by the food that we were served at the hotel restaurant. For lunch, we were given a small, squashed sandwich and a carton of juice. To make matters worse, when we complained to the tour guide, we were told to buy more food at the supermarket.
I feel that I am entitled to a refund to compensate for this terrible service.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Explain that you are making a complaint and state what you want to happen next.
Use adjectives to show your feelings
Use connectors to move from one problem to the next
Use passive voice to explain what happened to you
Use reported speech to describe information from a website, brochure, etc.
Elements of a Formal Letter
When you write a formal letter, you should include these elements:
- Write your own address in the top right-hand corner
- Write the date under your address
- Write the address of the recipient, i.e., the person you are writing to, on the left-hand side, below your address
- Start the letter with Dear… if you know the name of the recipient or Dear Sir / Madam if you don’t know the name of the recipient.
- Sign off your letter with Yours sincerely if you know the recipient, or with Yours faithfully if you don’t know the recipient.
The structure of a letter of complaint
Your letter should be divided into paragraphs. In the first paragraph you should:
➪ explain that you are making a complaint.
- I wish to complain about the service I received on my holiday.
- I am writing to complain about…
- I am writing to express my strong dissatisfaction at…
➪ give essential details such as the location, time and any reference numbers of the incident.
- My friend and I went on the 8-day tour of Greece, reference GR36A, from the 5th to the 13th of August.
➪ introduce what you are complaining about.
- …and we were extremely disappointed with the accommodation and the food.
In the next paragraph(s) give further details of the problem. If there were several problems, use connectors like Firstly, Secondly, Additionally, Furthermore, To make matters worse, Finally, to move from one problem to the next.
End your letter by stating what you want to happen next. Here are some useful phrases:
- I insist that you give me a refund to compensate for this terrible service.
- I expect a full refund.
- I must insist on a refund of (the cost of)…
- I demand compensation for…
- I hope you will take the necessary steps to…
- I feel that you should…
- I feel that I am entitled to a refund.
Describing what happened to you (Passive Voice)
Usually, you have a bad experience because something happened to you – you didn’t do something yourself. For example, in the sentence:
- For lunch, we were given a small, squashed sandwich and a carton of juice.
The writer did not do anything. Someone else gave the writer a small, squashed sandwich and a carton of juice. And in the sentence:
- We were told to buy more food at the supermarket.
Someone else told the writer to buy more food.
In this situation, it’s common to use the passive voice in formal writing.
When complaining about a past situation, use the past simple passive: was/were + the past participle of the main verb.
- We were given…
- We were told…
- I was assured…
- I was ignored…
- I was charged…
You may also need to use the past perfect passive: had been + the past participle of the main verb.
- I realised that we had been given…
- I noticed that I had been charged…
If you want to include who did the action, use the preposition by.
- We were told by the tour leader to buy more food at the supermarket.
Describing printed information (Reported speech)
In your letter, you can refer to information printed in a brochure or advertisement. To do this, you should use reported speech. You can do this using phrases like:
- The brochure stated that…
- The advert said that…
Imagine what is written in the printed information. For example:
- “All meals are provided.”
- “You will stay in clean, mid-range hotels”.
When you report this information in your letter, use reported speech and change the present tense to the past tense, and change will to would.
- “All meals are included”. ➪ The brochure stated that all meals were included.
- “You will stay in clean, mid-range hotels”. ➪ The brochure stated that we would stay in clean, mid-range hotels.
Contrasting printed information with your experience
In your letter, you can contrast the information in a brochure or advert with your own experience by using link words like although and however.
- Your brochure stated that we would stay in ‘clean hotels’. However, my bedroom was dirty in the Olympia Hotel.
- Although the brochure stated that all meals were included, we only received lunch twice during the holiday.
Note that we use however and although in different ways. However is normally used at the beginning of a sentence, before a comma (,) and after a full stop (.) or a semicolon (;). Although can be used at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence. We do NOT use a comma after although; we use although + subject + verb.
- We had a good time. However, we didn’t like the hotel.
- Although we had a good time, we didn’t like the hotel.
Describing feelings and situations
You can use adjectives to show how you felt during a situation such as:
- surprised (at)
- shocked (by)
- disappointed (with)
- anxious (about)
- worried (about)
- confused (by)
You can add adverbs like very or extremely to make the feelings stronger.
- We were extremely disappointed with the accommodation and the food.
- I was shocked by the poor quality of the food.
- I felt very anxious about my safety.
You should also use adjectives to describe the problems you experience. Choose adjectives that describe the situation clearly.
- The hotel was cheap and poorly maintained.
- It was in a noisy and unsafe part of town.
- The bedroom was dirty. The sheets were stained.
- The sandwich was small and squashed. It was not fresh.
- The tour leader was rude and unhelpful.
- The bus was uncomfortable.
- The brochure was inaccurate.
You should describe your dissatisfaction and frustration about the events, but you should always keep a calm and polite tone if you want your letter to be effective.