Currently, French consumers must bring any claims they may have against French companies to court. However, starting 31 December 2015, French companies that offer goods and services to consumers will now need to set up mechanisms to make available to their consumers, free of charge, recourse to mediation in case of a dispute arising from the poor performance of a merchandise sale contract or a service agreement.
These new requirements are the result of the implementation into the French consumer code of Directive 2013/11/EU dated 21 May 2013 on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes (the Directive on consumer ADR) No 2006/2004 and Directive 2009/22/EC (Directive on consumer). An implementing decree was issued on 30 October 2015. The rules are applicable to any individual or legal entity, whether public or private, acting as part of a commercial, industrial, non-industrial or free-market activity. Further, both domestic and cross-borders disputes are subject to these rules.
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Companies subject to this rule must provide consumers with the contact details of the relevant consumer mediator(s) in a clear and legible manner on their website along with their Terms and Conditions of sale or services, their purchase orders or any other relevant media.
In practice, a company may appoint either a dedicated mediator or an external mediator. However, companies must always allow the consumer to choose a mediator for the relevant industry sector, if available.
Additionally, consumer mediators must satisfy a set of conditions contained in the rules. For example, the mediator must be appointed for a minimum of three years and must be registered on the list of mediators provided to the European Commission. A first list is expected on 9 January 2016 at the latest.
Consumer mediation will be observed, evaluated, and controlled by a new entity – the Commission for the evaluation and the control of consumer mediation (la Commission d’évaluation et de contrôle de la médiation de la consommation – CECMC).
Mediation will remain an option for consumers – it will not be obligatory. However, non-compliance on the part of those parties subject to the rules is sanctioned by an administrative fine of up to EUR 3,000 for individuals and EUR 15,000 for corporations.
Because companies have only until the end of the year to comply with this requirement, it is imperative that parties subject to the rules make arrangements accordingly.