Online dispute resolution

Author: Preslav Baldzhiev

Throughout its long history, the European Union has sought institutional transparency, wide accessibility and bilateral negotiations. Following these values, an Online Dispute Resolution Platform has been set up to minimize unnecessary bureaucracy and unnecessary procrastination.

What is the platform?

The Online Dispute Resolution Platform (ODRP) is a free out-of-court settlement of disputes between online traders and consumers from EU Member States, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Its services can be used by both parties by filing a complaint, the subject of which is related to an online purchased product or online service. The platform is under the direct management of the European Commission. It is important to note that while the use of the platform is completely free of charge, the deciding authority chosen by the parties may have provided for certain fees.

What can’t the platform be used for?

The ODRP cannot be used to lodge complaints from one consumer against another consumer, as well as from a trader against another trader. The platform will also not benefit consumers who file a complaint related to goods or services that are provided outside the Internet space (such as physical shops), as well as services from the field of higher education and healthcare.

Who can file a complaint?

The complainant may be a consumer who is a national of an EU Member State, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. In some cases, a trader may also lodge a complaint against a consumer – traders from Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Poland have the right to do so. A complaint can also be filed through a representative of the consumer – the procedure is similar, but with a few very small differences.

How to file a complaint?

The procedure for filing a complaint through the ODRP is extremely simple, completely free and does not require initial registration. Registration is mandatory only when the trader against whom the consumer has lodged a complaint agrees to participate in the out-of-court settlement of the dispute.

When lodging a complaint, the complainant may use any of the official languages ​​of the EU Member States, as well as Norwegian and Icelandic. By completing the form, the consumer will have to indicate his nationality and the nationality of the trader, the manner of the purchased goods or services provided (online or offline) and the actions that the complainant has taken so far to resolve the dispute.

After providing this information, the complainant is redirected to a new page where he/she should indicate the name and registered office of the trader, his e-mail address and website. If a complaint has already been filed against the same trader by another person, the search engine of the platform can be used – in case of a match, the information mentioned above will be filled in automatically.

When the trader is identified, the complainant must describe the problem with the goods or services received. Here, the platform calls for a comprehensive and detailed explanation to facilitate dialogue between the two parties and to support the work of the decision-making authority (the decision-making authority will be discussed a little later in the article).

The next step requires the complainant to enter his contact details, thus ensuring the possibility of bilateral negotiations between the consumer and the trader. If the complaint is lodged by a representative, on a par with the complainant’s details, the contact details of his representative must also be provided.

Consideration of the complaint

Once the complaint has been lodged, the trader has the obligation to decide within 10 days whether to take part in the out-of-court settlement procedure. His participation was directly linked to the drawing up and sending to the applicant of a list of decisive authorities, from which the complainant could choose which institution to rule on the dispute. The complainant is not limited by the proposed list – if he does not approve any of the proposed authorities, he/she can make a proposal to choose one. It is crucial that both sides reach an agreement.

When an agreement is reached on the deciding authority, the ODRP automatically forwards the complaint to that institution. The institution has 3 weeks to assess whether she can consider the complaint and, if necessary, request more information. The deciding authority has the right to refuse to consider the complaint if it is:

  • Filed before the complainant tried to resolve the issue through dialogue with the trader;
  • Insignificant or malicious;
  • Considered or already examined by the same or another deciding authority;
  • Above or below a certain amount;
  • Filed outside the deadline;
  • Danger of reducing the effectiveness of the dispute resolution body;

If the complaint is accepted by the deciding authority, the deciding authority has 90 calendar days to rule. In more complex situations, the competent institution may request an extension of this period, in which case the complainant will be further informed. In order to be as objective as possible, the competent authority may request additional information (such as the provision of documents, a personal meeting with the complainant, etc.). And in order to ensure the transparency of the process of reviewing the complaint, the complainant will receive by e-mail address information about what is happening with it.

Decision on the appeal

After the expiry of the period provided for the examination of the complaint, the competent authority shall issue a decision. If the complainant is not satisfied with the decision, he/she can seek a judicial solution to the problem, but as long as this is provided as an option by the deciding authority. The decision may be binding on the trader and the consumer, but this depends on the powers of the competent authority.

Once the non-judicial competent institution has issued a decision, the complaint receives the status of “closed” – it ceases to be considered by the deciding body and is archived on the website of the ODRP, where it will be stored for 6 months.

An important detail is that the ODRP platform allows the decision to be translated either by a translation algorithm or by a professional translator. A decision can only be translated once and in one language only.

This material prepared by Preslav Baldzhiev aims to provide more information about online dispute resolution. It does not constitute a legal opinion and cannot be interpreted as individual consultation on any concrete facts or circumstances. The advice of a specialist should be obtained for specific questions and situations. For more information on the above-mentioned issues and individual consultations, please contact the team of the law firm of Krasimira Kadieva at 00359 882 308 670 or make an inquiry using the contact form of the website. Since 2017 Preslav Baldzhiev is a law student at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski “, having previously graduated from the High School of mathematics and natural science “Acad. Nicola Obreshkov” in Burgas. In February 2020 he took a course for industrial property representatives at the Patent Office of the Republic of Bulgaria in the field of trademarks, geographical indications, and industrial designs. He is interested in intellectual property, personal data protection, commercial and law on obligations and contracts and also regularly attends conferences, practical courses, seminars, and webinars.

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