Online dispute resolution for consumers
17 February 2016
This article was co-authored by Katarzyna Lejman
The European Union created a platform for online dispute resolution (ODR), enabling cases to be filed with an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) entity and decided without the presence of the parties. The platform was supposed to be launched on 15 February 2016, but customers had been informed of the possibility of resolving disputes online using the ODR platform from 9 January 2016.
The EU’s Consumer ODR Regulation (524/2013) and Commission Implementing Regulation 2015/1051 came into force on 9 January 2016. That two regulations apply directly (do not require implementation) and introduce a new method of resolving disputes between consumers and businesses connected with purchases made via Internet. The Consumer ODR Regulation introduces an ODR platform, which is a method of ADR conducted via the Internet. With the platform, consumers or businesses dissatisfied with a transaction may contact one another in matters connected with orders for goods or services without a language barrier. Automatic translation functions and independent arbiters (ADR entities) will then help them resolve the dispute.
Alternative Dispute Resolution in the EU
ADR has a long history in the European Union. But the breakthrough came in 2013, when two legal acts important for protection of consumers and making up a legislative package for alternative methods of dispute resolution were adopted:
- Directive 2013/11/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC (the Consumer ADR Directive)
- Regulation (EU) No 524/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on online dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC (the Consumer ODR Regulation)
The Consumer ADR Directive provides for establishment of a uniform system for out-of-court disputes resolution in EU member states. The system is to cover disputes between consumers and businesses arising out sales contracts and service contracts, including contracts concluded via the Internet and cross-border contracts. The Consumer ODR Regulation supplements the Consumer ADR Directive by providing for establishment of an electronic platform enabling cases to be submitted to an ADR entity via Internet without the presence of the parties. As with the EU’s other consumer legislation, the Consumer ADR Directive and the Consumer ODR Regulation are intended to stimulate growth of the internal market. Functioning smoothly across the entire EU, ADR procedures should encourage consumers to do e-shopping on the unified market by making it easier to resolve problems arising in such purchases.
Online Dispute Resolution Platform
The Consumer ODR Regulation is supposed to assist consumers and traders in submitting disputes related to online purchases to entities offering online ADR services, via a European platform for online dispute resolution (ODR platform). The ODR platform will gather all national entities offering ADR services at one access point. The platform will take the form of an interactive website available free of charge in all official EU languages. Through the platform, consumers and traders will be able to complete a complaint form in their native language and transmit it to the other party to the dispute via the platform. Only disputes concerning contractual obligations stemming from online sales or service contracts can be resolved through the ODR platform.
Additionally, the Consumer ODR Regulation requires each member state to designate at least one ODR contact point where consumers and traders can obtain information on how to use the ODR platform and how to effectively resolve cross-border disputes.
The launch date for the ODR platform for disputes between parties has been set at 15 February 2016. However, on the official Commission website there is currently a disclaimer stating that “dispute resolution bodies are currently not available on this site for some sectors and in the following countries: Croatia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain. As a consumer you might not be able to use this site to solve your dispute with traders in these countries.”
In the meantime, traders should remember to update their terms and conditions. Under article 14(1) of the Consumer ODR Regulation, online traders and online marketplaces are required to provide on their website an electronic link to the ODR platform.