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Update On Online Dispute Resolution Platform

As previously reported, the date upon which the European Online Dispute Resolution (“ODR”) forum will become available via a portal has slipped from 9 December to 15 February. From that date, all businesses trading online – including remote gambling operators and those who install gambling software using remote communication – must signpost customers to the forum by providing a link to the ODR platform on their website, informing them of its existence and of the possibility of using it to resolve disputes. This information must also be contained in the business’s terms and conditions.

The relevant Guidance, issued by the Department for Business, Industry and Skills (“BIS”), makes it clear, however,  that it will remain possible for businesses to refer customers to their existing approved Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) provider if it is in the same jurisdiction as the customer, if they consider that this is a simpler route to attempt to settle the dispute.

It has now been confirmed that providing an online contact form on websites that does not show the email address will not be sufficient to comply with the requirements. In addition, if an offer of a product or service is made to a customer by email, that email must contain a link to the ODR platform. Further, online marketplaces, which may not sell products direct to customers but instead facilitate transactions between traders and consumers, must also provide the link. Included within this category are online auction websites and online retailers that allow third-party sellers to trade through their website, and may well include, for example, External Lottery Managers whose websites allow customers to enter the lotteries of their commercial partners.

The Gambling Commission has suggested that, in order to comply with the requirement to make the information on ODR easily accessible to customers, operators include it alongside their existing complaints procedure information on their websites. It also suggests that, if they wish to use their approved ADR provider to handle ODR-filed disputes, they include contact information for that ADR provider.

All approved ADR providers are capable of handling disputes filed through the ODR platform. This means that, when a customer files a dispute in this way, the platform will identify a suitable ADR provider. ADR will then proceed, provided the customer and provider both agree. ADR providers can inly refuse to deal with a complaint in a limited set of circumstances, such as in the case of a frivolous or vexatious claim, or one that falls outside the minimum and maximum values of claim that the provider handles.

Failure to comply with the new requirements may lead to Trading Standards applying for a court order to force the operator to comply. If there is still non-compliance the maximum penalty is an unlimited fine and/or two years’ imprisonment.

BIS has said that it expects the ODR platform to be of particular benefit in cross-border cases, because it will offer a translation facility. It has published updated Guidance as an Annex to the existing detailed ADR Guidance for Businesses previously published on the Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s Business Companion website. A link to the updated Guidance is here:

BIS anticipates that it will further update the Guidance once it has more details on how the ODR platform will work in practice, nearer to the time of its launch, and we will keep you updated through future editions of this E-News. In the meantime a link has been provided to a provisional ODR page:   Although this page does not allow traders or consumers access yet, it does provide an opportunity to operators to prepare their websites in advance of the ‘go live’ date of 15 February.