From time to time consumers encounter problems with the products or services purchased. Fortunately most of these problems are resolved directly with the seller after the consumer complains about the shortcomings encountered. However, there are certain disputes that aren’t easily resolved and in such cases consumers usually require assistance.
This assistance is provided by Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) entities. ADR entities are entities that handle consumer complaints in specific service sectors. They provide the specialised support and assistance consumers need to effectively resolve dispute with traders or service providers without the need to take their case to court. ADR may be used for both domestic and cross-border disputes with regards to the contractual obligations of consumers and traders resulting from sales contracts or service contracts. The main function of the ADR entity is to bring the conflicting parties together with the aim of facilitating an amicable solution. The ADR also has the important role of proposing a possible solution.
This dispute resolution mechanism is available to all EU consumers as in each EU country there are registered ADR entities that can assist consumers solve their disputes with traders out of court.
The Consumer Alternative Dispute Resolution Regulations of 2015 enables any entity to take up the role of an ADR entity and thus act as intermediary when there is a dispute in their area of expertise. Established ADR entities must however adhere to specific obligations as stipulated in these regulations. There is for instance the obligation to maintain an up-to-date website with easy access to information concerning the ADR procedure and which enables consumers the possibility to submit a complaint and any supporting documents online. Consumer should also be offered the option to submit a complaint offline. Established ADR entities should also enable the exchange of information between the parties involved by electronic means, or if applicable, by post.
An ADR entity may refuse to deal with a dispute on one of the following grounds:
the consumer did not inform the concerned trader about the complaint and hence did not try to resolve the matter directly with the trader;
the dispute is frivolous or vexatious;
the dispute is already being dealt with by another ADR entity;
the value of the claim falls outside the threshold set by the ADR;
the consumer has not submitted the complaint to the ADR entity within a pre-specified time-limit.
In situations where the ADR entity is unable to consider a dispute, the Regulations stipulate that the ADR entity must provide the parties involved in the dispute with a reasoned written explanation of why the dispute cannot be mediated through the ADR entity.
In Malta the Complaints and Conciliation Directorate within the Office for Consumer Affairs handles complaints and acts as the residual ADR entity in cases where there are no sector specific ADR entities. This ensures that Maltese consumers have full ADR coverage and thus access to out-of-court settlement, regardless the nature of their purchase and regardless from where the purchase was made.