Brussels, 19 November 2013
Shopped online and want your money back? Commission Proposal on Small Claims helps consumers and SMEs
Bought a new 3D flat screen television and never got it? Or did you pay your supplier abroad and he delivered a faulty product? Don't worry, there is a cheap way to claim your money back. The European Commission has today proposed to strengthen the position of consumers and businesses in low-value cross-border disputes. Since 2007, the EU has a procedure to resolve small civil and commercial disputes in a hassle-free way: the European Small Claims Procedure. Six years down the line, the Commission is drawing on the experience acquired to make the European Small Claims Procedure even simpler, cheaper and more relevant for consumers and businesses. The key change proposed today would raise the ceiling for filing a claim under the procedure to €10 000, up from €2 000 today. Small businesses will be the big winners of this change – as currently only 20% of business claims fall below the €2 000 threshold.
"No consumer or business claim is too small for justice to be served", said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "Having listened to consumers and businesses, today the Commission is proposing rules that will make a truly European procedure more effective and relevant to daily life. At a time when the European Union is facing big economic challenges, improving the efficiency of justice in the EU is key to restoring growth and boosting trade. Today, we are acting to simplify the procedure for resolving low-value disputes in our Single Market. Consumers and SMEs should feel at home when they buy cross-border."
The European Small Claims Procedure, which was adopted in 2007 and has been applied since 2009, is a useful tool that has proven its worth. It has reduced the cost of litigating cross-border small claims up to 40% and the duration of litigation from 2 years and 5 months down to an average duration of 5 months. However, there is room for improvement. A Commission report on the European Small Claims Procedure published today, finds that the upper limit of €2 000 for filing a claim excludes too many low-value disputes, particularly disputes involving small and medium-sized enterprises. A large number of disputes is also excluded by the narrow definition of what a 'cross-border' dispute actually is, meaning that for example, a car accident in a border region of another Member State or a lease contract for a holiday property are not currently covered by the Procedure.
The Commission is therefore taking action to improve the usefulness of the procedure, by introducing a targeted set of practical changes to the way the procedure operates. The Commission's proposal to revise the Small Claims Regulation will notably:
With today's proposal the Commission is facilitating effective access to justice for consumers and businesses, so they have the confidence to better exploit the Single Market. As such it delivers on one of 12 concrete actions outlined earlier this year in the second EU Citizenship Report aimed at helping citizens make better use of their rights when for example shopping across borders. The need for action was also flagged in the European Consumer Agenda (IP/12/491).
The improved European Small Claims Procedure answers citizens' real concerns: in a recent Eurobarometer for example, one third of the respondents said that they would be more inclined to file a claim if the procedures could be carried out only in writing, without the need to physically go to court. The improved procedure also addresses business concerns: in a public consultation and in the Eurobarometer poll 45% of businesses said that they do not go to court because the cost of court proceedings would be disproportionate to the claim. Finally, the proposal also responds to calls for action from the European Parliament to ensure that consumers and businesses make better use of the small claims procedure.
The European Small Claims Procedure (Regulation (EC) No 861/2007) aims to improve access to justice by simplifying cross-border small claims litigation in civil and commercial matters and reducing costs. It was especially conceived to help consumers enforce their rights and ensure access to justice in cross-border cases. The mechanism first entered into application on 1 January 2009.
Under the current procedure, "small claims" are cases concerning sums of €2,000 or less, excluding interest, expenses and disbursements (at the time when the claim form is received by the competent court). The judgment is given in the country of residence of the consumer, or in the country of the defending company should the consumer so choose. The procedural rights of both parties are safeguarded, and the judgment once given becomes directly enforceable in the country of the losing party and in any other EU country. The procedure is conducted mostly in writing using pre-defined forms. Representation by a lawyer is not required.
A success story illustrating how the small claims procedure works
Consumer Example: An Austrian consumer ordered skiing equipment from a German website. He paid €1 800 in advance via bank transfer. The trader never delivered the equipment and did not reimburse the purchase price. The consumer therefore started a European Small Claims Procedure. The Austrian court in Linz issued a judgment in favour of the consumer, which was enforced by the German authorities in Charlottenburg. The consumer then received a refund of the purchase price.
SME example: A cosmetics retailer in Portugal was renovating his shop and ordered €8 000 worth of tiles from a Spanish producer. After delivery, the SME pays the invoice, but when the renovation starts they notice that about half of the tiles delivered are curved, and hence unusable.
The Portuguese retailer demands an exchange of the tiles but the Spanish company refuses, and also refuses to issue a refund. The Portuguese retailer files a small claims case, attaching the invoice to the application to his local court (since the place of performance of the contract was in Portugal) and asks for €3 000 in compensation. The court serves the application to the Spanish company, which objects to the claim stating that the tiles were of good quality. The court requests the opinion of an expert, who confirms that the tiles were of bad quality.
The court rules that this evidence is adequate and sufficient, and orders the Spanish company to pay compensation of €3 000 euros plus costs.
For more information
European Commission – Small Claims Procedure
e-Justice portal – Small claims forms
Report of the European Consumer Centre
Eurobarometer Survey on the Small Claims Procedure:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU
Annex: Infographic: How the Small Claims Procedure Works