Online shoppers provided with dispute protection
EU shoppers who have disputes with traders over goods and services may no longer need to go to court to settle them, thanks to a deal struck by Parliament and Council negotiators. The deal, on two laws to protect online and cross-border shoppers, aims to give easy access to fast, cheap and fair ways of settling disputes.
"An effective low-cost rapid redress mechanism which protects citizens is fundamental for the rapid development of e-commerce, which represents a crucial stimulus for growth in Europe's single market," said ADR rapporteur Louis Grech.
Many of the problems that one in five EU consumers run into when buying goods or services remain unresolved. To protect shoppers better and boost their trust in traders, the deal provides for impartial medication to settle disputes between shoppers and trades quickly, effectively and at low cost.
The deal concerns two draft laws, on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), which still need to be formally endorsed by Parliament and the Council.
Many EU member states already have ADR schemes to ease out-of-court settlements, but lack of awareness, patchy coverage or overloading make it difficult for shoppers to use them.
The draft ADR directive builds on existing ADR schemes, but aims to step up their use by requiring member states to ensure that ADR bodies exist for all business sectors.
The ADR rules will apply to consumer complaints against traders about goods or services, bought online or in a shop, within a country or across a border. ADR services should preferably be free of charge for a shopper or cost a only "nominal fee". Disputes should generally be resolved within 90 days, the agreement says.
"An effective low-cost rapid redress mechanism which protects citizens is fundamental for the rapid development of e-commerce, which represents a crucial stimulus for growth in Europe's single market", said ADR rapporteur Louis Grech (S&D, MT).
MEPs ensured that traders must inform consumers of which ADR bodies they are covered by and how to contact them. To boost the use of ADR schemes among sellers, traders must also say whether or not they are committed to using ADR to settle complaints.
MEPs also inserted provisions to ensure the impartiality and quality of ADRs.
To resolve disputes over online sales, a separate regulation on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) will establish an online platform at EU level to guide shoppers to the most appropriate resolution scheme for their dispute.
The platform, to be set up and maintained by the European Commission, will be accessible via the "Your Europe" Portal. To save time, all steps of the complaint can be handled online. The ODR platform will provide a standard complaint form and electronic translation. Information exchanged via the ODR portal will be protected by EU privacy and data protection rules.
MEPs ensured that the ODR regulation will apply to all disputes about online sales, irrespective of where the seller is located.
"Consumers and traders, especially smaller ones, feel insecure when carrying out cross-border transactions online. They are missing out on the potential of the single market because they do not now where to turn for help if they encounter a problem. Online Dispute Resolution will give them the confidence to buy and sell throughout the EU, thereby providing better choice for the consumer and a larger market for the trader", said ODR rapporteur Róża Thun (EPP, PL).
The Alternative Dispute Resolution directive and the Online Dispute Resolution regulation will enter into force 20 days after their publication in the EU Official Journal. The ADR directive should apply in all EU member states within 24 months of its entry into force. The ODR platform will start working shortly after that date.
Both Parliament and the Council must still formally endorse the agreed texts. The deal is expected to be endorsed by the Internal Market Committee on 18 December, and put to a plenary vote early in 2013.