From now on consumers will have the possibility to handle disputes online, as the European Commission has on 15th of February 2016 opened an online dispute resolution platform (so called ODR forum) for consumers and businesses. The service will be offered in all official languages of the EU. Upon request from the consumer, the decision concerning the dispute will also be given in the consumer's native language.
European consumers purchase a large number of products and services online. From mid-February onwards, consumers will have the possibility to handle contractual disputes related to such purchases online, whenever it suits them best. The name "ODR" is derived from the term Online Dispute Resolution.
Get acquainted with the ODR platform
At the moment the following countries have no dispute resolution boards available in certain trade sectors: Spain, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Germany, Slovenia, Estonia. As a consumer you may not be able to use the platform to solve your dispute with a business located in the countries mentioned above. In these cases please contact European Consumer Centre.
What changes, how does ODR work?
All businesses in the EU area that offer their services and products to consumers online will be required to have a link to the ODR forum on their website, when the forum is open. In addition, as of 9th of January 2016 businesses have been required to provide information on their websites about the alternative dispute resolution bodies (the ADR's) the consumer can contact in case of a dispute.
Disputes relating to the online purchase of a consumer product or service can be submitted to the ODR platform. Complaints should not be submitted to the forum before the consumer has sent a complaint to the seller or service provider. Only if the business has replied to the complaint and the parties still cannot reach a mutual understanding can the matter be treated as a consumer dispute, at which point the consumer may submit the case to a dispute resolution body through the ODR platform.
If multiple, alternative dispute resolution bodies are available, the ODR platform will give the parties involved in the dispute the opportunity to choose the dispute resolution body they wish to resolve their case. In Finland, the ADR bodies that belong to the ODR system are the Consumer Disputes Board, the Finnish Financial Ombudsman Bureau FINE and Traffic Accident Board. The Consumer Disputes Board may refuse to take the case if the consumer has not contacted the Consumer Advisory Service or the European Consumer Centre first.
In general, the ADR body must give a decision within 90 days of receiving all information and documents required for resolving the case. The consumer will be informed when the body has received all of the required information and begins considering the case.
Help in cross-border disputes
At the ODR platform, consumers and businesses can find all of the European alternative dispute resolution bodies that follow the requirements and principles of the European Parliament (expertise, independence, impartiality, transparency, efficiency and equity, freedom and legality). All Member States are obliged to ensure that they have alternative dispute resolution bodies in all sectors of business-to-consumer trade.
The ODR platform works particularly well as a platform for resolving consumer disputes across state borders within Europe. The European Consumer Centre, which helps and advises consumers on their cross-border disputes, is the ODR contact point in Finland. The task of the ODR contact point is to assist consumers, businesses and the aforementioned dispute resolution bodies operating on the ODR platform. It is also tasked with giving advice to consumers, particularly in situations where the ODR platform is not the correct place for handling a dispute or where the forum cannot handle a certain case for reasons such as internal regulations.
Solving disputes online: New platform for consumers and traders. European Commission’s press release on 15.2.2016.