New website requirements for disputes with consumers – are you compliant?
From 15 February 2016, all online traders (and online market places) dealing with consumers must provide a link on their website to a new online dispute resolution platform (ODR) platform (see http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/odr/) which has been set up by the European Commission. The ODR platform aims to help deal with disputes between consumers and traders in relation to goods bought online. Traders are not obliged by the rules to use the platform to resolve disputes, but need to put the link on their website, in standard terms of business and in any email offers, together with a contact email address to which customer complaints and disputes should be sent. “Online traders” in this context means traders who offer and allow customers to buy goods through their website or by other electronic means. Simply having a website that sets out what your company does is not enough to make you an online trader.
The new requirement forms part of the push by the EU to encourage traders to use ADR (alternative dispute resolution) to resolve differences with consumers, rather than resorting to the courts and is in addition to the laws brought in from October 2015 (the ADR Regulations 2015) which required all traders who sell to consumers to provide details of a certified ADR provider to a consumer if they cannot directly resolved their complaint, and inform the consumer of whether or not they intend to use that ADR provider. Use of the ADR provider is not mandatory, but traders must incorporate the required information into their customer complaints procedure to ensure they are compliant. Some traders may already be covered by specific legislation, or be part of a trade association, which already requires them to notify consumers about ADR providers in their terms and conditions.
ADR is an alternative to bringing cases through the courts and can take the form of mediation, arbitration, or determination by an industry expert or other independent third party. ADR can be cheaper, quicker and less confrontational than traditional litigation, and can offer confidentiality. This makes it a useful option, especially for lower value or less complex disputes involving consumers. Since ADR can assist consumers in enforcing their rights, ADR will often be provided free for consumers. The ODR platform aims in particular to assist in cross-border cases, where the respective ADR providers will liaise with each other to ensure both parties get local advice in their first language.
A list of ADR certified bodies can be found here: http://www.tradingstandards.uk/ADRbodies