Alternative Dispute Resolution

Introduction

If you have a dispute with a company in Ireland or elsewhere in the EU you should first try to solve the problem directly with the company.

If this fails, you may take your case to court. The Small Claims Court is particularly useful for claims worth under €2,000.

Another option is to use alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Some businesses belong to an ADR scheme that can help you solve your problem without having to go to court.

The term ADR covers a wide variety of processes aimed at resolving disputes out-of-court. They include mediation, arbitration and conciliation. The process involves an independent third party helping you and the business to reach a resolution on your dispute.

Organisations that provide alternative ways of resolving serious disputes are called alternative dispute resolution (ADR) organisations.

EU Directive on alternative dispute resolution

The right to access alternative dispute resolution processes for consumer disputes is part of EU law. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) is responsible for approving organisations and agencies as notified or authorised ADR bodies. It keeps a public list of authorised ADR bodies.

By law, authorised ADR bodies have to meet strict EU quality criteria which guarantee that they handle your complaint in an effective, fair, independent and transparent way.

There are also other organisations that provide informal alternative resolution services but are not listed as authorised ADR bodies with the CCPC. It is voluntary for organisations to go through this approval process.

The EU Directive on ADR was brought into Irish law by the EU Alternative Dispute Resolution for Consumer Disputes) Regulations 2015 (SI 343/2015).

How does ADR work?

The main aim of ADR organisations is to facilitate communication between you and the trader to help find a solution to the problem that is agreeable to both sides. Some ADR organisation can only propose a solution, while others have the power to impose a decision or ruling.

What types of disputes can ADR organisations deal with?

Alternative dispute resolution organisations can deal with disputes from both consumers and businesses.

Do the parties have to participate in ADR?

It is your own personal choice whether you want to use ADR to resolve a dispute with a business. You do not have to use ADR and have the right to take legal action instead. A court will usually require you to show that you have tried to resolve the issue before taking legal action. You can find out more about the small claims procedure and taking a civil case.

In most cases, participation in ADR schemes is not mandatory for companies. However, any business who commit to using, or are legally obliged to use an ADR entity must point you to the name and website of the relevant ADR scheme.

There are some sectors where the trader must use a certain form of ADR. For example, you have a legal right to bring a complaint about financial services company to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO). There are trade associations that make it mandatory for their members to use a particular ADR process, for example the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI).

Are all ADR decisions legally binding?

This depends whether you use mediation or arbitration:

  • Mediation: The mediator can propose a solution but has no decision making power. You and the company you are in a dispute with will decide on the outcome, instead of having it imposed on you.
  • Arbitration: Decisions of the arbitrator are final and legally binding. This means that the decision puts a legal requirement on the retailer or you to act in a certain way. This could be to repay the money, to fix the item or to return the item, and so on. You or the company can only appeal the final decision under limited circumstances. If the outcome of this decision is legally binding on either party, you may not then be able to take the case to court.

What are the benefits of using ADR?

The main benefits of ADR are:

  • It is easy to use
  • Can help solve a problem faster
  • Usually ADR costs less than going to court
  • Can be confidential
  • Can be flexible and provide a range of solutions and outcomes
  • Helps achieve mutual agreement, that is a solution that both parties are happy with

ADR may not be suitable in some situations, including when:

  • The outcome needs to be legally binding
  • The other party is unwilling to take part in ADR

What are the main types of ADR organisations?

There is a whole range of organisations and agencies that can help you defend your consumer rights in Ireland and within the EU. Some organisations have a number of functions as well as dealing with complaints from consumers.

There are 4 main types of ADR organisations in Ireland:

  • Ombudsmen
  • Regulators
  • Trade associations or professional bodies
  • Commissions and commissioners

Ombudsmen

There are Ombudsman schemes that cover many different services such as financial or utilities as well as organisations such as public authorities. If you have already gone through the trader’s internal complaints process and the issue is still not resolved, you may be able to use an Ombudsman if you feel you have been unfairly treated or that your consumer rights have been breached.

Ombudsman schemes can use more informal methods to resolve a complaint including conciliation or mediation. In other cases, it may start a formal investigation and issue a recommendation or ruling. Some decisions can be legally binding.

There are a number of Ombudsmen schemes available, including:

The Office of the Ombudsman has a useful guide on Ombudsman Offices in Ireland (pdf). It can help you identify the correct ombudsman to deal with your complaint.

Regulators

Regulators are bodies set up by law to oversee specific sectors to make sure they comply with the law. In Ireland, there are regulators looking after utilities and financial services.

For example, ComReg regulates the telecommunications and postal sector, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities regulates the gas, electricity and water suppliers and the Central Bank regulates the financial services sector.

You can find out more about consumer protection organisations.

Trade associations and professional bodies

Trade associations or professional bodies represent members of a particular industry or sector. Many have codes of practices that members have to follow. Members who don’t keep to the code rules can have their membership removed, their ability to practice restricted or they can be fined. You can find out more about how to complain about a professional.

Examples of trade associations or professional bodies are the Law Society, the Register of Electrical Contractors of Ireland and the Advertising Standards Association for Ireland.

Commissions

Commissions and commissioners are generally statutory bodies set up to ensure your rights according to specific legislation. In Ireland, these include the:

Using ADR to resolve cross-border disputes

Irish consumers can use ADR schemes to settle disputes with traders based elsewhere in the EU. If you have cannot resolve a problem with a trader based in another EU country, the following organisations can provide ADR services:

  • European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland – An informal dispute resolution service for cross-border consumer complaints. ECC Ireland has no enforcement powers.
  • Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) – Strictly for online purchases bought in Ireland or elsewhere in the EU. You can find out more about online dispute resolution.

You can find out more about your consumer rights in the EU.

Further information

You can find out more about how to make a consumer complaint. Your Europe also has information about out-of-court procedures for consumers.

Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

Bloom House
Railway Street
Dublin 1
D01 C576

Opening Hours: - Lines open Monday - Friday 9am - 6pm
Tel: (01) 402 5555 or 402 5500
Locall: 1890 432 432

Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

Bloom House
Railway Street
Dublin 1
D01 C576

Opening Hours: - Lines open Monday - Friday 9am - 6pm
Tel: (01) 402 5555 or 402 5500
Locall: 1890 432 432

Ombudsman for Children

Millennium House
52-56 Great Strand Street
Dublin 1
D01 F5P8
Ireland

Tel: +353 1 865 6800
Locall: Freefone 1800 20 20 40
Email: oco@oco.ie

Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman

3rd Floor
Lincoln House
Lincoln Place
Dublin 2
D02 VH29
Ireland

Tel: (01) 567 7000

Office of the Ombudsman

6 Earlsfort Terrace
Dublin 2
D02 W773
Ireland

Tel: +353 (0)1 639 5600
Locall: 1890 223 030
Fax: +353 (0)1 639 5674

Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission

150 Upper Abbey Street
Dublin 1
Ireland

Locall: 1890 600 800
Fax: (01) 814 7023

Office of the Press Ombudsman

3 Westland Square
Pearse Street
Dublin 2
D02 N567

Locall: 1890 208 080
Fax: (01) 674 0046

The European Ombudsman

1 Avenue de Président Robert Schuman
CS 30403
F-67001 Strasbourg Cedex
France

Tel: +33 3 88172313
Fax: +33 3 88179062

Data Protection Commission

21 Fitzwilliam Square South,
Dublin 2,
D02 RD28
Ireland

Opening Hours: 09:15 – 17:30 Mon – Thurs, 09:15-17:15 Friday
Tel: +353 57 868 4800 / +353 0761 104800

Office of the Information Commissioner

6 Earlsfort Terrace
Dublin 2
D02 W773
Ireland

Opening Hours: 9.15 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday
Tel: +353 (0)1 639 5689

Commission for Aviation Regulation

3rd Floor
Alexandra House
Earlsfort Terrace
Dublin 2
D02 W773
Ireland

Tel: (01) 661 1700
Locall: 1890 787 787
Fax: (01) 661 1269

Commission for Communications Regulation

One Dockland Central
1 Guild Street
North Dock
Dublin 1
D01 E4XO
Ireland

Tel: (01) 804 9668
Fax: (01) 804 9680

Workplace Relations Commission - Information and Customer Service

O'Brien Road
Carlow
R93 E920

Opening Hours: Mon. to Fri. 9.30am to 1pm, 2pm to 5pm
Tel: (059) 917 8990
Locall: 1890 80 80 90

ECC Ireland

Macro Centre
1 Green Street
Dublin 7
D07 X6NR
Ireland

Tel: (01) 879 7620
Fax: (01) 873 4328
Page edited: 21 July 2020