The Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications adopted the Rulebook on the Functioning of a Body for Out-of-court Settlement of Consumer Disputes (the “Rulebook”), which became applicable on 25 June 2022. This is another step towards ensuring that the mechanisms introduced in the last year’s Consumer Protection Law (the “Law”) become operational.
The Rulebook is very concise – it does not elaborate extensively on the functioning of a body for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes (the “Body”), likely because that topic is in most part regulated by the Law itself. However, the entire out-of-court settlement procedure introduced by the Rulebook and the Law together do bring important novelties into the arsenal of rights awarded to consumers, such as:
- Body’s services are free-of-charge for both parties, and the consumer only needs to cover his own costs (such as travel expenses, the costs of his attorneys, if engaged, etc.), which should enable the consumers to initiate this procedure more frequently, without fearing any financial burden.
- The consumers may freely choose whether to initiate this procedure or not, and are also entitled to withdraw from the procedure, while the sellers do not have the same luxury – their participation is mandatory.
- The procedure needs to be conducted in electronic form, if the consumer requests so.
- The duration of the procedure is limited to a maximum of 90 days, save for particularly complicated cases, for which another 90 days of extension may be granted.
- If the parties reach a settlement of their dispute, the Body will prepare it in writing and facilitate its signing by the parties.
- If no settlement is reached, the Body may issue its recommendation on the resolution of dispute, which however is not binding for the parties – they are still free to take the dispute to the court.
On the other hand, sellers’ interests are safeguarded by the fact that the consumers cannot initiate these proceedings without first having filed a complaint to them, and that the information exchanged during the procedure is confidential. In any case, if the seller has rejected the consumer’s complaint, it must inform him about the option to initiate the out-of-court settlement and to provide him with a list of available Bodies.
The Bodies are in fact persons who have the capacity of mediators under the Law on Mediation in Dispute Resolution, who graduated from the Faculty of Law, have a minimum of two years of experience in civil law matters, have appropriate premises and equipment, and which are, of course, registered as such before the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications. In fact, this ministry maintains the List of Bodies and publishes it on its website, which should make it easy for any consumer to choose one.
Despite being short and not overly informative, the adoption of the Rulebook is indeed an important step towards ensuring that the out-of-court consumer dispute settlement mechanism comes to life (over 130 proceedings were already initiated).
An important additional step towards a more efficient and easily accessible consumer protection could also be the actual implementation of the so-called Do Not Call Registry, which was also introduced by the Law, and which is still waiting to get its very own rulebook (expected by the end of this year). This is a public registry of consumers who declared themselves as unwilling to receive telemarketing calls or messages on their designated phone numbers, which the companies would need to check prior to contacting the consumers. A similar instrument already exists pretty-much everywhere else for some time, and it is definitely a high time that Serbia launches it as well.
Whether we are witnessing a slow but steady race towards a decently functional and easily available consumer protection is yet to be seen, perhaps when a bit more time passes. On a more positive note, maybe by the time the reports on the work of the Bodies for 2022 are ready we will see some tangible results in out-of-court settlement arena, and possibly even a rulebook enabling the functioning of the Do Not Call Registry as well. Until then, it is safe to say that any steps towards improved consumer protection are very much needed – and welcome.
The information in this document does not constitute legal advice on any particular matter and is provided for general informational purposes only.