The 2015 Regulations
The EU Directive on Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes has been transposed into Irish Law by the European Union (Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes) Regulations 2015 (S.I. 343 of 2015) (the “Regulations”). The Regulations are to impact businesses engaged in online selling, and aim to promote the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) in conflicts between consumers and online traders. The Regulations came into effect on 9 January, 2015.
Under the new system, customers are encouraged to resolve any conflict via ADR through the introduction of an Online Dispute Resolution platform (“ODR platform”) for the purposes of channelling complaints through appropriate ADR bodies throughout the EU.
The ODR platform operates by the consumer submitting an online form, which is then sent to the relevant trader, who proposes an ADR entity to the consumer for the purpose of resolving the conflict. Once the consumer and trader agree on an ADR entity to handle their dispute, the ODR platform transfers the matter automatically to that entity. The ODR platform consists of an interactive website for consumers and traders, and the relevant ADR entity handling the case is obliged to reach an outcome within a 90 day period.
In Ireland, five bodies have been designated as ADR entities so far, including the Arbitration scheme for tour operators; the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI); the Financial Services Ombudsman's Bureau; Office of the Pensions Ombudsman; and the Direct Selling Association of Ireland.
Implications of the Regulations for Businesses Trading Online
All businesses trading online should review the Regulations and make the necessary changes to their website/contractual documentation in order to avoid breach of the legislation. Likewise, it is advisable that businesses trading online are familiar with the workings of the ODR platform so as to ensure that they properly manage any consumer queries in the early stages.