Selling to consumers online? Compulsory rules now apply
Consumer law has had an overhaul, with the implementation of the Consumer Rights Act on 1 October 2015. On 9 January 2016, another important change was implemented into UK law in relation to consumer disputes.
Consumer rights have been high on the UK Government agenda, which aims to ensure that consumers know their rights and how to use them. In the context of dispute resolution, the UK courts have always championed resolution through alternative means, such as mediation or arbitration - this is what we know as 'alternative dispute resolution'. The motive behind this latest change is therefore apparent. It requires traders to provide information to consumers about a new Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) procedure. According to the European Commission, this procedure "will allow consumers and traders to resolve their disputes without going to court in an easy, fast and inexpensive way".
The European Commission has set up an online platform on which the ODR procedure will function. The ODR platform goes live on 15 February 2016 for use by traders and consumers. The period until 15 February is being used by alternative dispute resolution bodies (such as ombudsman services) that already comply with the EU's mandatory quality requirements, to sign up to and acquaint themselves with the ODR platform.
Consumers who have bought goods or services online and subsequently experience a problem with them will be able to submit their contractual dispute to the ODR portal, where the appropriate dispute resolution body will act as a referee to resolve the dispute. The portal can be used for domestic and EU cross-border purchases of goods and services.
This new law means that consumers will have easier access to dispute resolution procedures, which is likely to equate to an increase in complaints. However, a benefit to traders will be that they will gain a better understanding of their consumers' expectations on standards and any potential shortfalls in the goods or services provided.
From 9 January 2016, online traders are required to provide a link to the ODR platform on their websites. This will mean that anyone selling to consumers online will need to make more changes to their terms and conditions, in addition to the changes that were required in October to bring those terms and conditions into line with the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
For more information, contact Matthew Holman.