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  Notified out-of-court bodiesslide
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In 1998 the European Commission adopted a Recommendation on the out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes designed to ensure that out-of-court procedures offer the parties a minimum number of quality guarantees such as independence, transparency, efficiency and the respect of law. These principles of guarantees do not concern procedures that merely involve an attempt to bring the parties together to find a solution by common consent, but those which lead to the settling of a dispute through the active intervention of a third party who proposes or imposes a solution.

In the wake of this Recommendation, the Commission wanted to provide the public with relevant information on procedures which afford these quality guarantees and to facilitate the future networking of these. To this end, Member States were invited to notify the Commission of the bodies responsible for the out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes which they consider to be in conformity with the Commission's Recommendation.

To date 14 Members States have notified the Commission of 373 different out-of-court bodies. Luxembourg has announced an imminent notification to the Commission.

Some Member States have notified not only existing extra-judicial bodies in the sense of the Recommendation, but also some "conciliation or mediation" schemes that help consumers and business to find a solution to the dispute by common consent. As these bodies could also be useful to facilitate the solution to the consumer disputes, the Commission has decided to include that information in the database and in the networking project.

The situation concerning the bodies that have been communicated to the Commission by the Member States can be summarised as follows: 1

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bullet Austria: 15 notified out-of-court bodies, 1 with federal coverage and 14 with local geographical coverage. The competencies of the bodies are quite sectorial: 5 for matters relating to dentists, 1 for medical services, 2 for chimney sweeping disputes, 2 for dating and marriage agencies, 1 for telecommunications, 3 for matters related to motor vehicles reparation and trade and 1 for questions related to laundries. The 'decisions' of the bodies are always non-binding proposals or recommendations.
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bullet Belgium: 21 notified bodies among which 7 with local (communal) competencies. Apart from 4 'Arbitration Commissions', these bodies are mostly (12) mediators. The covered sectors refer to questions related to decisions of the public administration, travel agencies, furniture, textile, trade in used cars, banks, insurance, post, telecommunications and stock exchange issues. Decisions are binding for both parties in the case of arbitration and non-binding in mediation schemes.
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bullet Denmark: 1 notified general framework scheme, The "Consumer complaint Board", with national coverage and horizontal competencies. This body has approved 9 different private sector complaint and appeal bodies competent for the following sectors: building industry, property transactions, insurance industry, hotel, catering and tourism industries, cavity insulation, driving schools, financial institutions, mortgages and travel industry. Decisions are neither binding nor enforceable. However if a company does not comply with the decision, the case can be taken to court by the Board's secretariat at the request and on behalf of the consumer.
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bullet France: 3 notified "structures": "La Commission de Règlement de Litiges de Consommation" (only 2 are actually functioning in Rennes and Perpignan), "La Boîte Postale 5000", and "Les Conciliateurs de Justice". They act as conciliation mechanisms that help the parties to find an amicable solution to their disputes, thus decisions are not binding.
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bullet Finland: 2 notified bodies with national coverage: the "Consumer complaint Board" and the "Insurance complaints Board". The first is a State authority body divided into two departments (general affairs and housing) which are further sub-divided into sections. The general affairs Department is divided into 10 sections: textile, washing and dry cleaning, footwear, fur and leader products, furniture and household equipment, sale of motor vehicles, repair and maintenance of motor vehicles, tourism, other products, etc. The Housing Department is divided into 2 sections: prefabricated houses, major construction and repair work contracts and buying and selling of housing, real state agencies. The "Insurance complaint Board" is divided into 4 sections and deals with disputes on non-compulsory insurance. The Boards' decisions or opinions take the form of recommendations to the parties. Despite their nature, these are always respected in practice (every three months a list is put in the Board's public register, mentioning the companies not complying with the recommendations).
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bullet Germany: 2 203 notified out-of-court bodies, 3 with national coverage and the rest with regional or local geographical competencies. They are competent for different sectors related either to industrial branches or professions: the craft industry, laundries, housing, banks transactions, electronic installations, radio and TV, heating and climatisation, butcher industry, painting, chimney sweeping, dentist, doctors, carpenters, bakers, lawyers, hairdressers, repairs of motor vehicles and trade of used cars, architects, engineers, chemists, etc.
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bullet Greece: 57 notified "Commissions for out-of-court settlement of disputes", all of them having regional/local coverage and general competencies for all consumer disputes. The commissions' conclusions cannot be challenged, are irrevocable and cannot be appealed against. They are not enforceable, do not have the binding authority of a final judgement and cannot suspend or influence the course of any other proceeding. Nevertheless, they can be taken into account by courts when collecting legal evidence.
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bullet Ireland: 3 notified bodies, two Arbitration boards and one Ombudsman scheme, all with national coverage and sectorial competencies. They are "The Electricity Supply Board Customer Complaints", the "Arbitration scheme for tour operators" and the "Ombudsman for Credit Institutions". Decisions are final and legally binding in case of arbitration and only binding to the institution in case of an Ombudsman scheme.
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bullet Italy: 5 notified bodies: the Chambers of Commerce of Rome and Milan, the Arbitration boards of Telecom Italia, the Banking Ombudsman and the "Justice of peace" (acting as an out-of-court body). The Chambers of Commerce have regional/local coverage for general consumer disputes. The procedure ends with a 'settlement report' which creates a binding private-law contract between the parties. The Settlement and Arbitration boards of Telecom Italia make a scheme of 20 different departments in the different regional capitals of Italy dealing with consumers complaints in that sector. The Bank Ombudsman is a collegiate body competent at national level to settle any dispute related to banking or financial operations carried out by credit companies, its decisions are binding for the banks.
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bullet Portugal: 5 notified bodies: 4 Arbitration Boards with general competencies in consumer disputes and regional/local coverage ( Lisbon, Porto, Vale do Ave, and Coimbra -Figueira da Foz) and one Arbitration centre with national coverage responsible for disputes related to the motor vehicle sector. The decisions taken by the Arbitration Centres are binding to both parties, equivalent to decisions of the courts of first instance and are enforceable in law directly through the courts.
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bullet Spain: 67 notified Arbitration Boards : One with general competencies and national coverage and 66 Arbitration Centres with general competencies but, given the Spanish organisational set up, with either regional, provincial or local coverage. The proceedings come to their conclusion with the issue of an award which is binding on the parties, its effects are the same as those of 'res judicata' in the courts.
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bullet Sweden: 1 notified "National Board for Consumer Complaints". This national authority is divided into 11 departments dealing with sectors such as: banking, housing, boating, electrical department, insurance, motor vehicle, travel, shoes, textiles, cleaning; there is also a general department. The Board's decision is a recommendation to the parties about how the dispute is to be settled. It can neither be implemented by compulsion nor be appealed against but, in practice, many traders comply with it. If the trader does not follow the Board's recommendation, the consumer can take the case to an ordinary court.
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bullet Netherlands: 1 notified general framework scheme, the "Foundation complaints Board", with national coverage and responsibility for setting up and maintaining 28 sectorial Complaint boards acting under his umbrella and competent for sectors like: automobiles, banking, aerial installations, dry-cleaning, horticulture, odd-job companies, public transport, laundries, ophthalmic matters, parquet floorings, post, leisure, dating agencies, travel funeral services, hospitals, etc. The Complaints Boards reach decisions that are binding on both parties. It is not possible to lodge an appeal against them. The only way to have a decision tested is to submit it to an ordinary court within two months after it was sent.
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bullet United Kingdom: 20 notified bodies among which 18 with national coverage and 2 for Scotland and Wales but all with sectorial competencies: 2 on estate agency-housing, 5 competent for finance, 2 for matters related to floor covering and furniture, 1 for funerals, 1 for mail order disputes, 1 for motor trade, 1 for pensions, 1 for travel agencies, 2 for disputes with the legal profession, and 4 for matters related to disputes with the public administration (not with professionals as some Belgian notified bodies).

Most of the notified bodies are either Arbitrators or Ombudsman schemes. So, their decisions are final and legally binding for the first category and binding on the retailer for the second one.

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1 For further information on these bodies please refer to DG SANCO.

2 Provisional information. No translation yet available

 
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