What is Online Dispute resolution?

The ODR platform has been developed by the European Commission and is a requirement of the Regulations for Consumer Disputes.  The platform is an automated online tool that will allow consumers to make a complaint against a trader where goods or services have been bought online.  The complaint that is submitted by the consumer will be dealt with by an approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provider.  What is ADR?

Traditionally, if you had a problem with goods or services you had bought, and had not been able to reach an agreement with the seller, to resolve that problem, the only way to enforce your rights, as a consumer, was through the county court system. Due to a perception of undue cost and formality involved in using the courts, consumers often chose not to enforce their rights.

Since 2015 the government has approved a number of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) bodies to provide consumers with cheaper and less formal alternatives to using the courts. Since October 2015, all traders who fail to resolve a dispute with a consumer, have been required to identify to the consumer, an approved ADR body who would be capable of dealing with the complaint, in lieu of the courts. At present the trader is NOT required to actually use the ADR body, but many do and it is hoped that in future even more will do so.

What are the companies obligations?

All companies who sell goods or services to consumers online must provide consumers with the following information:

  • a link on their website to the ODR platform, irrespective of whether they currently market their products or services to consumers in other member states
  • an email address on their website so that consumers have a first point of contact.  This could be the email address of an individual or a shared mailbox that has been set up to deal with the complaints.

Since February 2016 traders who sell online have been required to provide a link to the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Platform. This platform is NOT an ADR body in itself, but is a tool to help the trader and consumer identify and access an appropriate body to deal with their dispute. Once both parties have agreed to ADR and chosen an appropriate ADR body, the platform can assist in the supplying of documents and in communicating between all the parties involved. In accepting to use an approved ADR body, through the ODR platform, the trader and the ADR body are agreeing to limit formality, to complete case handling in reasonable time frames and to do so at relatively low cost. Many of the approved ADR schemes are free to use to the consumer.

If you have a dispute with the trader, look for the link to the ODR platform, on the trader's website. If the trader sells from the website they are required by law to have a link to the platform. If you cannot find the link it may be worthwhile asking the trader where it is and, if it's not available, consider reporting this to your local trading standards service. Reporting the lack of a link will not strengthen your case or mean that the trading standards service will be allowed to pursue your case for you, but it may help ensure the link is provided in future. You can also access the ODR platform through the link on this website.

Once you find the link, click on it and the platform itself will help you through the process. The platform contains a number of user manuals and guides and if you still have problems using the platform, there is a help button where you can contact the ODR contact point for further assistance.

What is the link to the ODR platform?

https://ec.europa.eu/consumers/odr

How does a consumer make a complaint against an online company?

Consumers should first try to resolve the dispute directly with the company through their own complaints process.  If this fails then the consumer can submit their complaint via the ODR platform.

What happens next?

The company have 10 days to state if they are obliged by a trade membership or statute of law to use a particular ADR provider to assist in resolving the complaint.  If there is no obligation on the trader they can decide in this inital 10 day period if they would like to offer the choice of ADR provider to assist in resolving the complaint. 

The company have provided me a list of ADR providers who can assist in resolving the complaint. What now?

If you agree to one of the ADR bodies suggested by the company then you can confirm this on the platform. Your complaint details will get sent to the ADR provider for consideration.  If you do not agree on the choices then you have the chance to provide a suitable alternative to the company.  Unless both parties can agree on an ADR provider the case will be closed within 30 days of the initial submission to the platform.

What to do if you need help.

Within the platform you will have the chance to make contact with the ODR national contact point. This is a designated body in your country who deals with providing support with the platform.