Brussels, 19 March 2013
Commission seeks input on improving redress for consumers in cross-border claims
The European Commission has today launched a public consultation on how to improve access to justice for consumers and small businesses in small-scale cross-border disputes. The European Small Claims Procedure offers a cheap and easy way to resolve cross-border disputes for amounts below €2,000, without complicated legal procedures. It can be used in cases where consumers need to enforce their rights, for example because of non-delivery of goods ordered from another EU country. But a report last year from the European Consumer Centres Network found that this user-friendly procedure is not yet widely known and is often under-used (IP/12/985). The European Commission is now asking for input from consumers, businesses and the general public on how the Small Claims Procedure currently operates and how it could be improved, simplified or modernised. The aim is to improve confidence in cross-border shopping, helping consumers and businesses make full use of Europe’s Single Market.
Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner said: “Hunting for cross-border bargains is a way for consumers to get the 'best deals' across the EU's Single Market. Shopping online makes these bargains ever more accessible. But sometimes things can go wrong: there might be a problem with the goods or with delivery. To avoid difficult, costly and time-consuming legal procedures, the European Union is facilitating access to justice for consumers in Europe, so that they can effectively enforce their rights.”
The consultation launched today will run until 10 June 2013, after which time the Commission will assess the contributions received. The Commission will then report back before the end of 2013 on how the Small Claims Procedure is operating after its first five years. The report will be accompanied, if necessary, by a proposal to revise the Small Claims Regulation. The consultation will ask for input about how the Small Claims Procedure is currently being used and how it can be improved, asking questions such as whether the threshold for claims should be raised above EUR 2,000, whether legal documents used in the procedure should be able to be sent electronically or whether the Procedure should address the issue of Court fees.
In domestic markets, around 20% of European consumers report having encountered a problem in the past 12 months with a good, service, retailer or provider. The average estimated value of losses is €375 per case. 60% of consumers surveyed found a satisfactory solution directly with the trader but the remaining 40% obtained no remedy, of which 25% did not even try to complain. The number of consumers taking businesses to court when they have a problem is very low (2% of those who experienced a problem in the past 12 months). Many said they did not complain because the sums involved were too small (26%), they thought the procedure would be too expensive compared to the sum involved (13%) or that it would take too long (12%).
The Small Claims procedure exists precisely for these cases. However, the procedure is not yet well-known and underused. The European Commission is therefore working with Member States to increase awareness of the European Small Claims Procedure and ensure enforcement. For example, it is working with court authorities and European Consumer Centres to actively promote the procedure among consumers and judges.
A success story illustrating how the small claims procedure works
An Austrian consumer ordered surfing clothes from a German website. He paid €228 in advance via bank transfer. The trader never delivered the clothes 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.
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.
"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 made in the country of residence of the consumer, or in the country of the defending company should the consumer so choose. It protects his/her procedural rights and 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.
As of 2013, consumers in seven pilot countries (Portugal, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Austria) will be able to complete the small claims forms and carry out the whole court procedure online, via the e-Justice portal. Electronic versions of the standard forms are already available online (in 22 official EU languages).
For more information
Speech by Vice-President Reding at the European Consumer Summit 2013
European Commission – Small Claims Procedure
e-Justice portal – Small claims forms
Report of the ECC