Alternative Dispute Resolution 2016
ODR platform operational
From 15.02.2016 on, the new ODR platform of the EU is available. Consumers now have the option to initiate an arbitration process online via the new ODR platform operated by the European Commission.
How does the ODR platform work?
Consumers fill in an online complaint form that will be forwarded to the respective trader. The trader will then propose an arbitration body. If the consumer agrees, the complaint is submitted to the body that will initiate the process. From this moment on, a total of 90 days is foreseen for the alternative dispute resolution.
In every Member State, an ODR contact point exists for consumers who have a problem with or questions about the platform. In Austria, ECC Austria is the ODR-Contact Point. Years of experience in consumer advise enable ECC Austria to provide efficent help and competent answers. As a member of an EU-wide network, its legal experts can especially help with cross-border conflicts.
Strenghtening of consumer's in case of a dispute
The Consumer Scoreboard 2015 showed that only few consumers get active when they have a problem with a trader (ECC Austria reported). On the one hand, they're not aware about their rights, on the other hand they think that they don't have a chance. Many recoil from taking legal steps.
This negative mindset leads to insecurities and suspicion especially when it comes to concluding a contract online (online shopping, internet travel agencies etc.).
The European Union wanted to do something against this tendency. In order to strengthen the trust among consumers and therefore the Single Market, a system of out-of-court arbitration bodies was developed.
Covering the EU
With 2016 the latest, every EU Member State installed such arbitration bodies that are in charge either for specific branches or in general.
In Austria, many bodies already existed, like the RTR for conflicts with the mobile company or the Internet Ombudsman for contracts concluded online. Overall, the following areas are covered:
- Telecommunication and postal services
- Energy services
- Financial services
- Passenger rights
- Prefabricated houses
- Internet business
Furthermore, the new "Schlichtung für Verbrauchergeschäfte" (Arbitration body for consumer businesses) handles everything that isn't covered by another body.
On May 21, 2013, the EU passed new legal regulations regarding alternative and online dispute resolution. The aim is to make arbitration bodies easily accessible to all consumers and therefore strengthen their trust in the European Single Market. In Austria, the regulations were implemented in the "Alternative-Streitbeilegung-Gesetz" (AStG).
Benefits: Other than the legal process via court that is often linked with a huge workload, high costs and a lot of time, ADR and ODR will be established as a fast, cost-free or at least inexpensive and easy alternative.
The arbitration bodies are independent, neutral and aim at an amicable solution. They don't take either the consumer's or the trader's side, but mediate between them to achieve a compromise. The process is confidential, cost-free and should not take longer than 90 days.
Information obligations: In case of a conflict, traders are obligated to indicate the competent arbitration body. The participation however is voluntary and can always be cut by either one of the parties.
The following traders are obligated to participate:
- Telephone, Internet or broadcasting operators/service providers
- Electricity and gas companies
- Railway, coach, ship companies and airlines
- Postal service providers
Those have to indicate the competent arbitration body on their website or in their Terms&Conditions.
Important to know: As long as the arbitration process goes on, other periods (e.g. limitation periods) are stopped. The result has no consequences on eventually following court procedures. As the process is confidential, participants are not allowed to talk about results to the media. If no solution was found, the option of taking legal steps is still open.
As the ODR contact point, ECC Austria is ready to answer your questions regarding alternative and online dispute resolution. Please find all contact details here.