As part of the Government's efforts to help businesses prepare for the possibility of the UK exiting the European Union without a deal on 31st October 2019 it has recently published a paper entitled Consumer rights and businesses: changes after Brexit. The paper confirms that, in the event of a 'no deal' exit, UK-based businesses and consumers will no longer have access to the European Commission's Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform.
The ODR platform must currently be offered as a means of resolving consumer disputes by any business who sells goods or services within the EU via a website or other electronic means.
In a 'no deal' Brexit scenario businesses who trade solely within the UK will not need to take any action as the majority of existing rights and obligations will remain in place by virtue of domestic legislation. However, those businesses that trade with European counterparts, and both UK consumers who purchase from EU traders and EU consumers who purchase from UK businesses, will be impacted and those businesses should be prepared.
The immediate practical step that these businesses should take is to remove any links to the ODR page from their online sales platform. It may also be necessary to check and update any terms and conditions that make reference to the ODR.
However businesses should also consider their wider strategy for effectively dealing with consumer complaints in the absence of ODR. We recently wrote about the cost and efficiency savings that are offered by Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods and businesses should consider whether it is in their best interests to continue using ADR as a mechanism to resolve consumer disputes away from the ODR platform.
Consumers may not be aware that any future disputes with EU-based businesses, following a 'no-deal' Brexit, will require enforcement through the local courts of the trader concerned, and this will be more expensive, time-consuming and complex. Consideration should be given to contractual terms which may help to alleviate this risk.