Since 9 January – the date on which most of Regulation (EU) no. 524/2013 became applicable – disputes concerning online sales and service contracts concluded between consumers resident and traders established in the Union have a new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) tool: the European online dispute resolution (ODR) platform, operational as of 15 February 2016 and available at the following website http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/odr/.
The ODR platform aims to offer a simple, efficient, fast and low-cost out-of-court solution to the abovementioned disputes. In particular, it will: i) provide general information regarding the out-of-court resolution of these kinds of disputes; ii) allow consumers and traders to submit complaints by filling in an electronic complaint; iii) transmit complaints to the competent ADR entity, as identified by the parties; and iv) offer, free of charge, an electronic case management tool which enables ADR entities to conduct the dispute resolution procedure online, without requiring the physical presence of the parties. These features are designed to increase consumers’ confidence in the digital market.
Article 14 of the Regulation also states specific information obligations for all traders established in the Union engaging in online sales or service contracts. The latter, in fact, since 9 January, are obliged to:
- provide on their websites an electronic link to the ODR platform, which shall be easily accessible for consumers;
- state their email address, so that consumers can have a first point of contact with them;
- inform consumers about the existence of the ODR platform and the possibility of using it for resolving their disputes, but only in case of traders that are committed or obliged to use one or more alternative dispute resolution entities to resolve disputes with consumers. Moreover, such information, where applicable, shall also be provided in the general terms and conditions applicable to online sales and service contracts.
The violation of these obligations entails penalties, the amounts of which are differently determined by each Member State: in Italy, the appointed authority to define such system of penalties is Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM), i.e. the Italian Competition Authority.
The Regulation, finally, provides the designation of national “ODR contact points”, i.e. entities that shall provide general information and support to consumers with regard to their own rights and to the material functioning of the ODR platform. In Italy, the National Centre of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), based in Rome and Bolzano, has been designated as the OCR contact point.