New legal requirement for websites: ODR service goes live
Today's the day the ODR goes live in the UK - and across most of Europe.
It's now a legal requirement that websites based in the EU which sell online have a link to the ODR - http://ec.europa.eu/odr - on their website. Read on for the specifics of who this effects...
A source has just told me it's not live across all EU member states yet - I assume they're referring to the countries which don't yet have "dispute resolution bodies" which are Croatia, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Spain.
The ODR is an online service to allow consumers to issue complaints about goods or services they buy online. It's designed to encourage arbitration and avoid costly legal battles - ideally after you've had proper discussions between yourselves (in some cases this will be insisted upon).
Back in November we wrote how as of the 9th January it would be a legal requirement for all websites selling online to "add a link from their website to the ODR, and state their email address. Links also should be added to contracts or any terms and conditions". The system wasn't ready by the 9th January though, and went live on the 15th February.
Who's it for?
The ODR is for consumers living in the EU, complaining about goods or services bought online from a trader established in the EU.
Before I start with the details as to how it all works - my main question this morning has been "what constitutes buying online?". As a web development company, our clients typically pay by BACs, but they find us and read about our services through our website. Often communication is all done via email and telephone, with no face to face meetings. On the ODR website they say you can't use the service if "your complaint is about goods or services bought offline (e.g. physically in a shop)"... so what about something you find online?
The ODR gives contact details for all countries involved (so far) so I rang the UK contact in Basildon to ask them for their definition of buying online. I was told it was a good question and something they'd been discussing amongst themselves on Friday!
Their final verdict was that a company in our position - advertising products and/or services on a website and making sales as a result of that - should include a link on their website to the ODR as consumers may need to use the service.
HOWEVER - I also managed to clarify with them that the service is strictly B2C - Business to Consumer - so that means our web development company don't need to link to the ODR because we only deal with businesses. If you're B2B, there's no protection for you - hence why you should only work with a member of The Web Guild as we will shortly be launching our dispute service.
As an interesting side note, if you're a trader in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg or Poland, it seems you will be able to raise a dispute against a consumer.
How does it work?
From the ODR home page, you select whether you're raising a dispute against a trader or a consumer. "You" don't have to do this yourself, the complaint could be raised by a "lawyer, legal advisor or any other person (e.g. family member, friend)".
If you're a consumer making a complaint against a trader (which will be the most common scenario), you'll be asked to provide notes about the transaction and your issue along with any supporting docs (you can upload pdf, jpg, jpeg, doc, docx, xls, xlsx, ppt, or pptx files up to 10MB in size) along with the trader's email address - make sure you get it right!
The trader will then be contacted by the ODR and be asked to suggest an arbitration service provider. The EU / ODR don't deal with the disputes themselves, they just facilitate you finding a company / organisation who can help you reach a solution. Once a provider has been suggested, you can accept the suggestion or reject the suggestion and try to agree on another. If for any reason only 1 is available this will apparently be flagged up. The consumer and the trader / the complainer and the person being complained about (!) have 30 days in which to agree on a provider.
Some providers charge for their services - some don't. You can see the full list of providers on the ODR website here - clicking on the "more info" button and then on the "procedure" tab will tell you if there are any fees. From a look around, any that do charge more often than not charge the trader rather than the consumer and the actual fees aren't displayed on the ODR website, presumably because there's not a "1 size fits all" pricing structure.
It's also on this light box under "Sectors and Types" that you can see if the organisation are the type to cover your sector.
The provider then has 3 weeks in which to confirm they can take on your case... it may be that they feel, having reviewed the details of the situtation, that they don't feel best suited to deal with it - in which case you'll be notified.
Assuming the provider does take on your case, they then have 90 days (or longer in complicated cases - but I assume you'd be notified if that was the situation) to reach a decision on an outcome. In most cases you could pull out of the complaint / procudure at any time, but it will depend on the provider you use so if you want that freedom make sure you choose to use someone who will allow you to do that should you need to.
I did find something on the ODR that says some cases can't be investigated if:
"the value of the claim is below a specified amount;
the value of the claim is above a specified amount;"
I assume that means some arbitration providers have remits they work between so it's a case of considering who you're choosing to use and potentially having to choose someone new if they say they can't help you based on the financial values involved.
From everything I've read, it seems that you won't need to travel to face-to-face meetings - it might be things need to be discussed via a conference call but it's unrealistic to assume a member of the public (consumer) would need to travel to a different country to discuss a small online purchase.
The site is available in 23 EU languages and there's a translate feature so you can understand any messages / judgements sent to you if you're dealing with a arbitration provider or trader in another language. If at any point something isn't clear, you should contact an advisor.
You can log in to the ODR to see the status of your complaint at any time. If it's marked as "closed" then it means it's archived and nothing more is being done with it. This can happen if the initial 2 parties don't agree on a provider within 30 days, or if the provider closes the case once it is resolved.
You'll be able to log in and see the details of your case for up to 6 months after it's been closed; after that it'll be deleted for data protection reasons so the EU recommend you make a copy / download the details from the site before this time is up. I'm afraid I don't currently know how you can take this download - there may be an option to download the history of the case but if there isn't you could just copy and paste any and all messages you've had or even print off any screens / messages you can find in your account about that case.
So is the judgement binding?
This depends on which dispute service you use - if you check the ODR website and look at the details of each service provider it'll tell you whether it's binding or not. If it's not, you're basically no better off - this whole system is just a way of getting an impartial decision basically - which can be really helpful but only if all parties are fully on board and prepared to accept the decision. If you really don't like the verdict you may be able to appeal and then take the case to court - it depends on the rules of the dispute resolution body you choose to use.
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