Alternative dispute resolution

As a European consumer, you are effectively protected by consumer legislation. However, you may disagree with a trader on what constitutes your rights. If you cannot reach an amicable solution, you can resort to the courts, but this is often a time-consuming and expensive option. Fortunately, there is an alternative to the courts: Alternative dispute resolution (also referred to as ADR).

Different types of alternative dispute resolution are available: the Ombudsman, reconciliation commission, arbitration, etc. They are available throughout Europe as a result of European legislation and initiatives. 

In the event of a dispute relating to a purchase made on the Internet, you can refer to a European ODR platform that groups all authorised ADR organisations in Europe.

ADR: Alternative dispute resolution

What is an alternative dispute resolution body?

An alternative dispute resolution body or ADR will help you resolve your dispute without you having to resort to the courts. To be recognised as an ADR body, the organisation must comply with several criteria laid down in the European Consumer ADR Directive 2013/11/EU:

  • expertise
  • independence
  • neutrality
  • transparency
  • effectiveness
  • equity

Some ADR bodies offer their services free of charge, others charge for their services.

Note: some ADR bodies stipulate that the trader must be a member of their organisation. Always check this before signing a contract. Usually, this information can be found at the end in the general terms and conditions.

Alternative dispute resolution: binding or not?

Whether or not a decision is binding depends upon the type of ADR organisation. There are 3 types of resolution: mediation, conciliation and arbitration.

Mediators and conciliators try to bring the parties closer together and find an amicable solution to settle the dispute. But their decisions are not binding.

Arbitration involves a decision that both parties have to comply with. 

Advantages of alternative dispute resolution: faster and cheaper

Why not submit your dispute to the courts straight away? Because alternative dispute resolution bodies work more quickly and are often specialised in the specific domain of your complaint, their services are free of charge or cheap and they can deal with your complaint within 90 days. Moreover, you would not need the services of a lawyer.

Belgian alternative dispute resolution bodies

Recognition of Belgian alternative dispute resolution bodies, specialised in consumer affairs, is governed by the FPS Economy, which publishes a list of all relevant organisations. There are several sectoral organisations and a general ADR body, the consumer ombudsman service, with authority when no other sectoral ADR body is authorised.

ODR: online dispute resolution

In Europe: online dispute resolution via the ODR platform

With ODR Directive 524/2013, the European Commission launched the ODR platform, which gathers all recognised alternative dispute resolution bodies in Europe. European consumers who have experienced a problem concerning an online purchase can submit their complaint via this platform. 

Your complaint is submitted via the platform. You, and the trader, then have 30 days in which to appoint an ADR body to deal with your dispute. The selected ADR body then has 90 days in which to find a solution. 

ECC Belgium is the Belgian contact point for this platform, for consumers, traders and ADR bodies. 

ODR in Belgium: online dispute resolution via Belmed

In Belgium, the Belmed online platform already provides support to consumers and commercial enterprises. It is managed by the FPS Economy. An independent mediator handles alternative dispute resolution cases via the Internet.

This is either an ADR body (registered with the European Commission by the FPS Economy) or an organisation recognised by the federal mediation commission of the FPS Justice.