This article is about what are, and how to use, the official consumer complaint forms, known as Hojas de Reclamaciones, which allow any consumer who has a complaint against a Spanish restaurant, bar, shop, service provider, and many other businesses, to enter the complaint officially and easily.
It isn't a magic wand, but very often it works like one ....
Have you ever wondered about that sign you see in nearly every Spanish business premises? That one that says "Existen hojas de reclamaciones a disposición del consumidor o usuario"? Well, this is the official doorway to enter a complaint if someone tries to pull a fast one on you, or simply does not do or give you what you believe you have paid for. Roughly translated it means “Here there are available complaints forms for the consumer or user.”
Strangely enough, the information I have looked through indicates that the Spanish do not use these official complaints forms nearly often enough. They are somewhat English in their reluctance to do any more than say what they think and never go back to that shop again. The Spanish authorities actively encourage consumers to use the official complaints procedure. Imagine for one moment that you think that a product you have just bought from a shop at a special offer price does not match up to the publicity given. You try to get a refund, but they refuse because it was a special offer. You argue this way, they argue that way, You say “potayto”, they say “potarto”, and you end up getting nowhere. Ask for the “Hojas de Reclamaciones”.
It isn’t a magic wand, but very often it works like one and you get what you believe is right. Why is that? It’s because it means extra work for the shop manager, and it is a blot on their official records! If they get a number of similar blots, then the Consumer office starts to nose around the business, which is always bad news for them.
My wife uses this threat quite early on in the argument. Her favourite is when there is some publicity in the local rag stating that there is a special offer on some item that she wants to buy cheap. On arrival, they politely tell her they have sold out of that item. First question: “How many did you have in stock at the start of the campaign?” Answer, whatever it is, has the riposte, “Well it wasn’t enough to place it in the newspaper. That is misrepresentation. I insist you get me one from another branch, or head office, or wherever”. If they refuse, or say they can’t? “Traigan me las Hojas de Reclamaciones, ¡ya!” This simple threat makes them think twice and start a telephone search to locate the article in question and have it brought here asap. If they still refuse to see things your way, then it is a recourse which provides official arbitration to sort things out one way or the other, at no cost to yourself.
....it is easy to let your anger get the better of you. Keep it simple and straight forward....
It is the first step in the official Spanish complaints procedure. They are an official booklet of forms in triplicate. The pages are numbered sequentially, and each triple consists of a top (white) original copy, a middle (green) copy for the consumer, a bottom (pink) copy which stays in the book. They are issued by the local authority, and should be produced on demand.
If you believe you have a complaint in a Spanish business, that is not being attended to correctly, then you ask (politely) for the “Hojas de Reclamaciones”. Normally the proprietor, or manager, will try to resolve the issue without recourse to this measure. But if no agreement can be reached, the booklet will be produced. If they refuse to produce the booklet, you should call the Local Police. First tell the manager you are going to do that to give him a moment to change his mind.
You should fill out the form as follows. Preferably in Spanish, but you can use English if you have no option. The form should be completed on the premises of the business where the complaint is being made. You should state clearly and simply what is the cause of the complaint, and what solution you would like to see, such as refund, exchange of goods, repair of damages, etc. You cannot claim any punitive damages, by the way. This is NOT a court case, it is a civil arbitration process. In this part it is easy to let your anger get the better of you. Keep it SIMPLE and STRAIGHT FORWARD. If you go off at tangents, your complaint might well not be clearly understood. You should state clearly the date(s) and time(s) relevant to the complaint. You should indicate your personal details, name and address, sufficient for the Spanish business or the Consumers Office to reply to you by post. You should state the details of the business itself. Every Spanish business has a set of official data which they are obliged to provide you with for the purposes of filling out the Hoja de Reclamaciones. You must sign the form. You must make sure you have all relevant information in your possession. That means invoices, sales slips, guarantees, publicity leaflets, copy of a price list (if relevant), etc. You will need these later. The proprietor or manager might wish to add some comments below what you have written, but usually their comments are made separately. You now take the TOP TWO pages, that is the WHITE original and the GREEN consumers copy. You leave the PINK copy in the book for the business.
You can now take the WHITE original plus photocopies of the receipts, guarantees, and any other document you believe relevant, to the local Oficinas Municipales de Información al Consumidor. You will possibly have to go to the local Ayuntamiento if you do not know where this office is. They will help you in anything you need to know. It is good to go in person if possible, as you can get a stamped official receipt of your complaint. But another route is by Burofax. This is an official fax system run by the Correos post office for delivery of official documents. An official mediation process will be set up, and you could hear a result in between 2 weeks and 4 months, depending on how stiff necked the Spanish business is about it. You will hear by post to the address you put on the form. Keep hold of all the documents and the GREEN copy in a safe place, in case you are asked for them. If the arbitration goes your way, you should be compensated according to your demands on the form. The Spanish business might also be fined. If you wish to take things further through civil courts, a positive result on the arbitration will be very helpful to your case, but the Oficinas del Consumo will not become actively involved in anything. I hope this has been a useful introduction to the way the Spanish handle the complaints procedure between a business and the consumer.
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