How to File a Consumer Complaint: Step by Step Guide | Overview
- Who can file a complaint?
- Jurisdiction of Consumer Redressal Agencies
- Step By Step Guide
- Grounds for Dismissal
- Remedies for Complainant
This article aims to explain how to file a Consumer Complaint, through a step by step guide and follow up. If a consumer is aggrieved by a brand or a company, he or she has the right to file a complaint against that brand or company, for redress.
It is a beacon of justice, as Consumer Dispute Redressal Agencies have the authority to award damages to the complainant. They may be in the form of monetary compensation, or an order to discontinue the sale of that product in the future. It is important for the procedure to be simple, with limited formal procedures, in order to make it more accessible.
Consumer Redressal Agencies have to be inclusive and accessible in order to be truly successful in their intent to address consumer grievances. This article will elucidate the process of approaching a consumer redressal agency through a neatly explained series of steps.
How to File a Consumer Complaint: Step by Step Guide
It is important for all citizens to be aware of their consumer rights, as stakeholders and driving forces of the economy. To safeguard consumer rights, it is essential for consumers to know how to file a complaint, on what grounds can a complaint be filed, how appeals work, and on what grounds your complaint can get dismissed.
I. Who can file a complaint?
The first question that needs to be asked is – who can file a complaint?
To understand the process of filing a complaint, we must first ask who is eligible to file one. Only a consumer can file a consumer complaint. A consumer is someone who has purchased a service or goods in exchange for monetary consideration, without the intent of manufacturing or reselling that product.
Similarly, a voluntary consumer organization, the government, the next of kin or representatives of a consumer in the situation of his death can also file a complaint. If multiple consumers have faced the same difficulty with the same product or service from a particular brand, they can come together to take legal action.
The Consumer Protection Act came into effect in order to safeguard the rights of the consumer. Prior to this, the only avenue for consumers was litigation in courts, as the consumer redressal agencies did not exist. The process of litigation was an expensive and a time-consuming process, since one needed to hire a lawyer and court proceedings could be a prolonged affair.
It also discouraged consumers because the legal jargon was daunting to the layman, and involved extensive paperwork and formalities. By creating consumer redressal agencies, so that a consumer could register a complaint even without the assistance of a lawyer, the process was made easier, accessible and affordable.
II. Jurisdiction of Consumer Redressal Agencies
The Jurisdiction of the District Forum, the State Commission and the National Commission is explained through Section 11, 17 and 21 of the 1986 Act respectively. However, the 2019 Act brought certain changes in the same.
- Territorial Jurisdiction
The changes brought by the 2019 Act grants consumers more access to justice. Earlier, consumers faced difficulty if the business did not have an office in their state, because jurisdiction was restricted to the area where the seller lived or conducted business, as per Section 11(2) of the 1986 Act. The 2019 Act permits consumers to file a complaint based on where they live or work. It has made the process more convenient for them.
- Pecuniary Jurisdiction
The 2019 Act brought changes in this aspect for the District, State and National Commissions. Earlier the limit for District Commission was Rs. 20 Lakhs but now it is Rs. 1 Crore. The limit for State Commission used to be Rs. 1 Crore but is now extended till Rs. 10 Crore. Likewise, the limit for the National Commission has increased above and beyond Rs. 10 Crore. As the 1986 Act, the limit for National Commission was restricted to Rs. 1 Crore.
III. Step By Step Guide
The manner and procedure for a consumer to file a complaint, are detailed in Section 12 and 13 in the IIIrd chapter of the Consumer Protection Act 1986.
The complaint can be registered on a regular sheet of paper. One does not require stamp paper for filing their complaint. The 2019 Act permits consumers to file a complaint before the District Forum through electronic means. The option to register complaints online makes the process simpler and less time-consuming.
Format of complaint
- One must mention the complaint cause as the heading. For eg, “Hon’ble South Delhi District Consumer Redressal Forum’’.
- It should be followed by mentioning the name of the complainant as well as the name of the individual or organization against which the complaint is being filed.
The consumer should include all the relevant facts of the matter and clearly state the grounds on which the complaint is being filed. The cause of action must be mentioned. The relevant facts include the name and details of the consumer as well as the company that the complaint is filed against. It should mention the date and time of buying the product or availing the service, as well as the price paid for them.
The specific details of the defect in the product or the fraud committed needs to be stated. One needs to attach documents like a copy of the bills of products purchased or services availed, warranty receipt, etc as they strengthen the consumer’s case and help establish the cause of action.
The amount of compensation sought should be mentioned in the complaint itself. The consumer has the option of claiming litigation expenses, refund or damages as well. When the consumer is specifying the compensation claimed, he must take into consideration the pecuniary jurisdiction of the consumer court where the complaint is being filed. It is also key to mention the amounts within separate headings.
It is mandatory for the statement of jurisdiction to be included in the complaint, to establish how the case falls under the jurisdiction of that consumer redressal agency.
One has to attach an affidavit to the complaint for the sake of verification. It should state that all the facts and claims mentioned within are true and accurate.
The complainant must sign towards the end of the complaint. The complainant has the option to represent himself in the consumer court. However, he can even delegate an authorized representative to argue his case, if that suits him better.
When filing a complaint with the district forum or state commission, the complainant must file it in three sets. If the complaint is being filed with the National Commission, then it requires four sets of filing, as an additional set is given to the opposite party.
If the consumer files the complaint more than two years after the date of when the cause of action arose, it will not be taken up. Exceptions can be made in a situation where the consumer has sufficient and reasonable justification for the delay.
IV. Grounds for Dismissal
If the aggrieved consumer does not appear in court on the designated date of the hearing the Forum has the authority to dismiss the complaint.
Secondly, as stated previously, the consumer must register a complaint within two years since the date of the cause of action arising.
In the case of Vibha Bakshi Gokhale v. Gruhashilp Constructions, a flat buyer filed an appeal against a construction firm. The NCDRC had previously passed an order, on 16th November 2018, commanding the appellants to file a rejoinder and evidence within the next four weeks. The NCDRC dismissed the appeal because the appellant had failed to obey the orders and effectively ensure that the evidence and rejoinder had been filed on time. NCDRC felt that the case likely lacked merit or they would have filed evidence and rejoinder in due time. Consequently, the order of the NCDRC was appealed in the Supreme Court.
The bench consisted of Justice Hemant Gupta and Hon’ble Justice DY Chandrachud. The Supreme Court judgment, on 10th May 2019, held that –
Dismissal of consumer complaints on mere technical grounds, defeats the purpose of ensuring justice.
The NCDRC order was set aside, as the Supreme Court remarked that,
Orders like such not only detracts from the very purpose for which the NCDRC was established but the dismissal of consumer complaints on technical grounds adds to the burden of litigation and fails to ensure justice in consumer forums.
The Hon’ble bench spoke of how the primary intent behind setting up the institution of consumer redressal agency, is to protect the rights and interests of vulnerable consumers by giving them a platform to access justice, as per the regulations of the Consumer Protection Act 1986. Supreme Court believed that assuming a link between the delays caused, and the case lacking merits is a flawed notion. The slight delay cannot be a reason to refuse justice to an aggrieved consumer. The Supreme Court stated that –
It is harsh to penalise a bona fide litigant for marginal delays that may occur in the judicial process.
This was a landmark judgment because it prioritized the intent of the Consumer Protection Act 1986, and permitted room for slight delays so that sheer technical grounds do not become a barrier to justice for a genuine complainant.
V. Remedies for Complainant
The District Forum is empowered to provide certain remedies to the aggrieved consumer, as per Section 14 of the 1986 Act. The remedies include monetary compensation for the complainant, that could either be restricted to refund from the seller or go above and beyond that.
The Redressal Agency may also order for a discontinuation of the unfair trade practice, or put an end to the sale of that specific product or service. They may even ask for the product to be replaced, and a new one with no defects should be given to the aggrieved customer.
Alternate Dispute Resolution
The Consumer Protection Act 2019 introduced new provisions for resolving consumer disputes and improving upon the 1986 Act. This includes the avenue for mediation. The consumer redressal agency may recommend for the case to go to mediation so that it is settled outside the ambit of the Court. Parties are encouraged to come to a mutual decision through compromise.
The Delhi Government stated,
“Mediation is a voluntary process in which an impartial and neutral mediator tries to bring together the disputant parties to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution. The parties to the dispute have an opportunity to vent their grievances and feelings and thereafter work out the solutions to meet their interests”
Unlike the judge, the mediator does not punish either party through a penalty or sanction but creates an atmosphere of adjustment, negotiation and understanding, by asking both parties to accommodate each other’s needs. The upside to mediation is that it offers you less risk as it provides you with the opportunity for an amicable settlement.
Unlike mediation, consumer courts have a winner-takes-all approach. The consumer and the seller both have the avenue to approach the mediation centre in case of a dispute. If the process of mediation fails, they can take the matter to court, with an order by the mediation centre.
Alternatively, the Consumer Forum must refer the case for mediation if both parties have agreed and consented for mediation. Given that mediation often helps both parties gain through a mutual settlement and decreases the burden on Consumer Courts, the 2019 Act emphasizes the need to institute a consumer mediation cell in every District and State Commission. This is the responsibility of the State Governments. Likewise, it demands a mediation cell in the National Commission, by the Union Government.
 Section 2(1)(d) of the Act
 The Consumer Protection Act 1986
Section 11(1) of The Consumer Protection Act 1986
Section 34(1) of The Consumer Protection Act 2019
Section 47(1)(a)(i) of The Consumer Protection Act 2019
Section 17(1)(a)(i) of The Consumer Protection Act 1986
 Section 1(17) of The Consumer Protection Act 2019
 Section 13(2c) of The Consumer Protection Act 2019
Vibha Bakshi Gokhale vs. Gruhashilp Constructions MANU/SC/0787/2019
 Section 74(1) and section 74(2) respectively of The Consumer Protection Act 2019