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Helping consumers shop with confidence - 05/12/2011

Handshake in front of law books © istockphoto.com/John Keith

New measures will make it faster, easier and cheaper for consumers to resolve disputes with traders when buying goods and services in the EU.

In 2010 one in five European consumers experienced problems when buying goods and services in the single market. The cost of unresolved disputes is estimated at 0.4% of EU GDP.

Now the EU wants to ensure that an out-of-court solution is available to everyone, regardless of what they buy, where it was bought or how – online or offline.

A more effective and transparent system should increase consumer confidence and encourage shoppers to search more actively for the best offers across the EU, thus driving competition and economic growth.

Resolving contractual disputes

Under the proposals, all consumers will have recourse to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – where a neutral third party can propose a solution or mediate between customer and trader. It is estimated that universal access to ADR will save consumers €22.5 billion a year.

Arbitrators will have to meet certain quality criteria and resolve disputes within 90 days. Businesses will inform customers about which arbitrators could deal with contractual disputes should they arise.

Resolving online disputes

The second option for consumers is Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), a process similar to ADR but handled entirely online. The plan is to create an EU-wide single online platform for consumers and traders to resolve disputes over online cross-border transactions.

Consumer complaints will be automatically sent via the online platform to the competent national arbitrator, which must then help to find a solution within 30 days.

Next steps

The European Parliament and the EU Council have committed to adopting the proposals by the end of 2012. After the adoption, EU governments will have 18 months to implement the ADR directive, meaning quality out-of-court ADR should be available across the EU by the second half of 2014.

The EU-wide platform for online dispute resolution will become fully operational six months after that deadline, in early 2015.

More on solving consumer disputes

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