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Resolving Disputes: the New ODR Platform Explained

The dispute resolution landscape is constantly changing and there is now a range of options for resolving legal conflicts. Although taking action through the court system is always possible, consumers in particular may want to look at alternative options, in order to save time and money. In this article, James O’ Flinn examines the European Commission’s new Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform.

Up until now, if issues have arisen from online transactions, many consumers have been reluctant to take action. Cases can be expensive to litigate and a vast number of buyers may be unaware of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures, such as mediation, which can act as better alternatives to going to court. If a consumer has an issue with a trader regarding a service or product they have purchased, they can either seek to resolve the issue through negotiation with the trader, or apply to the courts. But reputation and good service is essential in order for a business to flourish so, as an alternative, traders and consumers can now seek to settle their dispute, out of court, through the new Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) web-based platform. Originally announced in 2015, the ODR platform became operational on 9 January 2016 and will become fully accessible on 15 February 2016.

What’s the purpose of the new ODR platform?

The ODR platform has been designed to help EU consumers who have bought goods or services online, from traders within the EU, and who subsequently have a problem with that purchase. In other words, the platform can provide the consumer with the confidence that any dispute they may have can be dealt with quickly and cost-effectively. In some EU countries, you can also use the ODR platform if you are a trader and you want to complain about a consumer over a good or service you sold online. In facilitating consumers to submit their contractual dispute and conduct an ADR procedure online (in any of the 23 official languages of the EU), the ODR platform will transmit disputes to ADR entities who have been incorporated in the national lists of ADR bodies that comply with stipulated quality requirements set down by an established EU Directive.

How does the platform work?

There are four simple steps. First, the EU consumer completes an online complaint form and submits it. Second, the submitted complaint is directed to the EU trader who is the subject of the complaint, who then proposes an ADR registered entity to the consumer. Each ADR entity will have its own rules and procedures. Third, once the trader and the consumer have reached agreement on an ADR entity to handle their dispute, the ODR platform will automatically transfer the complaint to the selected ADR entity. Fourth, the ADR entity will handle the entire case online and an outcome will be reached in 90 days.

If the trader elects not to propose an ADR entity to use in resolving the dispute, they will be deemed to reject the opportunity of an out-of-court settlement of the complaint using the ODR platform. The consumer will be informed of this.

The option and encouragement to use the ODR platform will be reinforced by relevant EU legislation which now provides that traders established within the EU engaging in online sales or service contracts, and online marketplaces, will provide an easily accessible electronic link on their websites to the ODR platform. In addition, those who are committed to or obliged to use other ADR entities must also inform consumers of the ODR platform as an alternative option to resolve their disputes. This must be done through their website or by an email.

Access to the ODR platform for traders and consumers alike within the EU will be effective on 15 February 2016 and can be found at http://ec.europa.eu/odr.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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