Alternative Dispute Resolution
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:
- Trade associations or professional bodies
- Commissions and commissioners
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 Ombudsman for Children – for complaints made by children or on behalf of children against certain public bodies such as schools or hospitals
- The Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) – for complaints about financial service providers
- The Office of the Ombudsman – for complaints about public service organisations such as government departments, local authorities and the Health Services Executive
- Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) – for complaints about the conduct of gardaí
- Press ombudsman – for complaints about the media
- The European Ombudsman – for complaints about any of the EU institutions (for example, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Court of Justice)
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 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.
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.