New consumer dispute resolution regulations will come into effect in January that will require online businesses to review and update their websites and general terms and conditions. 

The European Union (Online Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes) Regulations 2015 (SI 500 of 2015) (the “ODR Regulations”) enter into force on 9 January 2016. The ODR Regulations implement into Irish law certain provisions of EU Regulation No 524/2013 (the “Regulation on Consumer ODR”) and create new offences under Irish law for traders who breach those provisions, including, in particular, Articles 14(1) and 14(2) of the Regulation On Consumer ODR.

Under Article 14(1) of the Regulation on Consumer ODR, all traders established in the EU who engage in online sale or services contracts, and all online marketplaces established within the EU, must provide on their websites an easily accessible electronic link to a new Europe-wide online dispute resolution platform (the “ODR Platform”). Traders engaging in online sales or service contracts are also required to state their email addresses on their websites.

Article 14(2) provides that traders established in the EU who engage in online sales or service contracts and briefing who are committed or obliged to use one or more alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) entities to resolve disputes with consumers, must inform consumers about the existence of the ODR Platform and the possibility of using it to resolve their disputes. This information should also be included by such traders, where applicable, in their general terms and conditions applicable to online sales and service contracts.

“ADR entities” are ADR bodies which have been notified to the European Commission and fulfil certain requirements under the Regulation on Consumer ODR. The notified ADR entities for each Member State are listed on the European Commission’s website. There are five nominated ADR entities for Ireland, including the Financial Services Ombudsman.

A trader who commits an offence under the ODR Regulations will be liable on summary conviction to a class A fine, a term of imprisonment of not more than 12 months, or both.

The ODR Platform is intended to take the form of an interactive website offering a single point of entry to consumers and traders across the EU seeking to resolve disputes out-of-court which have arisen from online transactions. The ODR Platform is to be established and maintained by the EU Commission but, unfortunately, at the date of writing, the platform has not yet been made publicly available and it is not known when the platform is scheduled to “go live”. Clearly, this poses technical and logistical difficulties for traders seeking to update their websites and terms and conditions to comply with the new requirements in advance of the entry into force of the ODR Regulations on 9 January 2016. One would expect, however, that this will be resolved by 9 January 2016 and, on that basis, website operators should take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with the ODR Regulations in the coming weeks.