A new system of online dispute resolution for consumer disputes (hereinafter as “ODR”)[1] created and managed by the European Commission has been operational since February and it is available in Portuguese language at https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/odr/main/index.cfm?event=main.home.show&lng=PT.

What is the ODR platform?

The ODR platform consists in a system of alternative settlement of disputes which aims to offer a simple, efficient, fast and low-cost out-of-court solution to disputes arising from online transactions. 

The purpose of this platform is to stimulate consumers’ and traders’ confidence in the Digital Single Market when purchasing goods or services on the Internet, as well as to promote the free movement of goods and services and the economic growth on the European Union.

How does the ODR platform operate?

The ODR platform allows consumers and traders of the European Union to resolve disputes concerning contractual obligations arising from online sales or service contracts between a consumer resident in the EU and a trader established in the EU through the intervention of an Alternative Dispute Resolution entity, not being required the physical presence of the parties or their representatives.

The complaint proceeding is divided into 4 phases:

  1. Submitting a complaint by completing an electronic form;
  2. Agreeing on a dispute resolution entity;
  3. Complaint handling by the dispute resolution entity;
  4. Outcome and closure of complaint within 90 days. 

In accordance with the ODR Regulation, each Member State shall designate one ODR contact point. In Portugal, the platform national contact point is the Consumer General Directorate who will be charged to inform and clarify the parties on their functioning, namely (i) assisting with the submission of the complaint, (ii) providing general information on consumer rights or (iii) informing the complainant party of other means of redress when a dispute cannot be resolved though the ODR platform.

Obligation to Inform

For the purpose of strengthening the consumers’ confidence in the Digital Single Market, the ODR Regulation foresees a set of obligations that traders established in the EU must comply. Therefore, traders must:

  1. Provide on their websites an easily accessible electronic link to the ODR platform;
  2. State their e-mail addresses;
  3. If traders are obliged or committed to use one or more alternative dispute entity, they shall also inform consumers about the existence of the ODR platform and the possibility of using the ODR platform for resolving their disputes ;
  4. Update the terms and conditions applicable to online sales and service contracts with the abovementioned information.

Finally, it should be emphasised that traders are not obliged to accept or use the ODR platform, given that said platform does not constitute a compulsory dispute resolution mechanism.