Until recently, when a customer made a complaint about goods received or services provided a trader would usually deal with the issue using their own internal process, and no formal obligations would kick in until the customer issued court proceedings.
Recent EU legislation came into force in October 2015, which is designed to encourage traders and consumers to make use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). This is less formal and less costly than the court process, and involves a mediator or other similar third party, assisting the parties to reach an agreement without having to go through court proceedings.
From October 2015, if a dispute with a customer gets to the point where a trader’s internal disputes resolution procedure is exhausted and no agreement has been reached, the trader is now required to inform the customer in writing that the complaint cannot be settled, provide the customer with the name and address of a suitable ADR body for dealing with the issue and inform customers as to whether the trader is obliged or prepared to consider using that body to resolve the dispute.
It is hoped that by obliging traders to notify customers of the existence of ADR more disputes will be settled in this way, reducing pressure on the courts and the costs of dispute resolution for both traders and consumers. It is also widely accepted that using ADR preserves the relationship between the consumer and trader more effectively than going through the courts.
To further this aim, the European Commission is also in the process of developing an Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform for consumers to use to resolve disputes with companies. This ODR platform is for consumers who have both been offered and ordered goods or services through a website or other electronic means.
From 15 February 2016, if your business provides online sales or service contracts you will be obliged to provide a link to the ODR platform on your website. If the goods or services are offered by email you are obliged to provide an e-mail address for consumers to use as a first point of contact in the resolution of any complaints.
In addition to this, in your general terms and conditions for online sales or services, you are obliged to inform consumers of the existence of the ODR platform and the possibility of using the ODR platform to resolve complaints. These obligations also extend to online market places.
First published on the BFA website: https://www.thebfa.org/news/bfa-news/consumer-dispute-resolution-changes-new-eu-requirements-for-all-businesses