The Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes (Competent Authorities and Information) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/542) (ADR Regulations) came into force on 1 October 2015 and require traders selling to consumers to give their customers information about alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
Every trader who is unable to resolve a consumer's complaint with them directly using the trader's internal complaints procedure must inform the consumer on a "durable medium" (such as a letter or email) that it cannot settle the complaint, of the name and website address of the relevant ADR provider and whether the trader is obliged or prepared to make use of the relevant provider.
The use of ADR is not mandatory under the ADR Regulations, but may be mandatory under the rules of a trade association. A trader who is obliged by law or their trade association rules or the terms of a contract to use ADR services provided by a particular ADR entity must provide the name and website address of the ADR entity in its terms and conditions and on its website.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute is responsible for appointing recognised ADR providers. Motor Codes (part of the SMMT) and the National Conciliation Service (part of the RMIF) have both been approved as ADR providers.
Some of the main operational rules ADR providers must follow are:
- The ADR procedure must be free of charge or available at a nominal fee to consumers.
- ADR providers have three weeks from receiving a complaint file in which to inform the parties concerned if they are refusing to deal with a case.
- Disputes must be concluded within 90 days of receiving the complete complaint file. This timeframe can be extended in the case of highly complex disputes.
- Individuals who oversee disputes must have the necessary expertise and be independent and impartial.
- ADR providers must make available specific information about their organisation, methods and cases they deal with, and provide annual activity reports.
- Consumers must have the option to submit a complaint (and supporting documentation) and to exchange information either online or offline.