On 15 February 2016, the European Commission activated the Online Dispute Resolution ("ODR") platform, enabling consumers and traders to use Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") to settle out of court disputes arising from online transactions.
The ODR Regulation
Regulation No. 524/2013 of 21 May 2013 on online dispute resolution for consumer disputes and amending Regulation (EC) No. 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC aims to create an ODR platform at Union level.
This Regulation is to be considered in conjunction with Directive 2013/11/EU of 21 May 2013 on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes (the directive on consumer ADR) which requires Member States to ensure that all disputes between consumers resident and traders established in the Union which arise from the sale of goods or provision of services can be submitted to an ADR entity.
Consumers and traders are entitled to feel confident when carrying out transactions online. The availability of reliable and efficient ODR could help greatly in achieving this goal.
The ODR platform – procedure
The ODR platform offers a single point of entry for consumers and traders seeking to resolve disputes out of court that have arisen from online transactions. Dispute resolution via the ODR platform is not mandatory. Parties may still decide to submit their dispute to the competent court.
The complainant can submit complaints by filling in an electronic complaint form (available in all the official languages of the Union institutions) and attach relevant documents. The ODR platform notifies the respondent about the complaint and identifies the competent ADR entities. Parties have 30 days to agree on the ADR entity that will handle their dispute. The ADR entities are listed on the platform. The platform transmits the complaint to the ADR entity agreed on by the parties.
The ADR entity has three weeks to decide whether it is competent or not to deal with the dispute and to inform the parties.
The ADR entity must conclude the dispute resolution proceedings within 90 calendar days. The physical presence of the parties is not required. The ADR entity must communicate all matters via the ODR platform (the subject matter of the dispute, the date of conclusion of the ADR procedure and the outcome).
Obligations for traders
In order to ensure broad consumer awareness of the ODR platform, traders established within the Union engaging in online sales or service contracts and online marketplaces established within the Union must provide, on their websites, an electronic link to the ODR platform(https://webgate.ec.europa.eu/odr). The link must be easily accessible for consumers. If an offer is made by e-mail, the link to the ODR platform must also be provided in that e-mail. Traders must also provide their e-mail address so that consumers have a first point of contact.
Moreover, traders established within the Union which are committed or obliged to use one or more ADR entities to resolve disputes with consumers in their industry sectors must, in the general terms and conditions applicable to online sales and service contracts, make consumers aware of the existence of the ODR platform and the option of using the ODR platform for resolving their disputes.
These obligations are without prejudice to Article 13 of the ADR Directive (Article XVI.4 of the Code of Economic Law) concerning traders’ obligation to inform consumers about the ADR entity or entities by which those traders are covered and about whether or not they commit to use those entities to resolve consumers’ disputes. That information, which should include the website address of the relevant ADR entity, must be provided in a clear, comprehensible and easily accessible way on the trader's website and in the general terms and conditions of sales or service contracts between the trader and consumer.