Which? Web Trader has launched an online arbitration scheme to resolve disputes over e-tail transactions. The service aims to be an alternative to the Small Claims Court.
Which? Web Trader is the online shopping hallmark scheme set up by the Consumers' Association.
It has teamed with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a non-profit organisation for the administration of alternative dispute resolution, to offer the service.
Gregory Hunt, manager of dispute resolution services at the Institute, said: "Customer service, or the perceived lack of it, has inhibited online customers. The new scheme lets retailers provide customers with the assurance they need.
"The process can be administered over the internet enabling e-tailers to make online arbitration part of their service to customers."
Which? Web Trader members will be able to use the online arbitration service to resolve disputes if a suitable resolution cannot be reached by the Which? Web Trader team liasing between the trader and the customer. The scheme is designed to be faster than going to court.
In each case the Institute will appoint a trained and independent arbitrator with expertise in online retailing. The process is carried out online, with both sides submitting documents electronically from which the arbitrator makes a decision.
The cost depends on the size of the claim, and the process is expected to take no more than three months. A claim of up to £500 will cost £10 and a claim of £1000 to £5000 will cost £30, for example.
The maximum claim is £10,000. If the complaint is found in favour of the consumer, the cost of arbitration will be refunded.
"Now the scheme has been launched in the UK, we plan to work with the Institute to role out online arbitration schemes in the Web Trader schemes run by consumer organisations in Europe," said Paul Kitchen, head of Which? Online.
Members of the Which? Web Trader scheme include The Carphone Warehouse, Debenhams and EasyJet.
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