Insights European Commission proposes new rules on Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) for consumers

The 2013 EU ADR Directive creates a framework for consumers to voluntarily submit complaints against traders to entities offering independent out-of-court dispute resolution procedures. The Directive applies to consumers residing, and traders established, in the EU, and consumers may pursue ADR against a trader based in any EU Member State (reflecting the fact that consumers commonly purchase products from traders outside their country).  It covers disputes concerning contractual obligations relating to services and goods bought in shops or online. Trader participation is also voluntary unless required through other EU or Member State legislation. Each Member State is required to ensure disputes can be submitted to an ADR entity where the trader is established which complies with the quality requirements set out in the Directive (these includes requirements relating to expertise, independence and impartiality). In addition, under the 2013 EU Online Dispute Resolution (“ODR”) Regulation, the Commission established an ODR platform to enable consumers and traders to resolve their disputes over online purchases via ADR bodies across the EU.

On 17 October 2023, the European Commission published a proposal to amend the ADR Directive seeking to widen the scope from disputes over contractual obligations to all infringements of EU law with a consumer protection dimension. If adopted, the Directive would apply to a much wider set of obligations including misleading advertising, omission of pre-contract information, issues related to switching providers, portability and geoblocking of content etc. Traders would have to respond to a request for ADR within 20 days (whether they want to participate or not) and non-EU traders would be allowed to participate. The proposal would remove the obligation on traders to inform consumers about ADR in the case that the trader does not intend to engage, as this is considered counter-productive and burdensome. Greater support will be given to consumers to launch and pursue cross-border claims from contact points designated by Member States.

Another proposal is to repeal the ODR Regulation and replace the ODR platform with a digital interactive tool that will direct consumers to redress solutions.

Currently, dispute resolution procedures offered by online marketplaces are not covered by the ADR Directive. The Commission has therefore also proposed, by means of a non-legally binding Recommendation, that online dispute resolution procedures should adopt the relevant quality criteria that apply to ADR bodies established under the ADR Directive, as well as some further obligations including informing consumers when automated procedures are used to resolve disputes and allowing them to require that the outcome of the procedure is reviewed by a natural person.

The proposals on the Directive and Regulation will now be reviewed by the Commission’s co-legislators, the European Council and Parliament.

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