Traditionally, if you had a problem with goods or services you had bought, and had not been able to reach an agreement with the seller, to resolve that problem, the only way to enforce your rights, as a consumer, was through the county court system. Due to a perception of undue cost and formality involved in using the courts, consumers often chose not to enforce their rights.
Since 2015 the government has approved a number of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) bodies to provide consumers with cheaper and less formal alternatives to using the courts. Since October 2015, all traders who fail to resolve a dispute with a consumer, have been required to identify to the consumer, an approved ADR body who would be capable of dealing with the complaint, in lieu of the courts. At present the trader is NOT required to actually use the ADR body, but many do and it is hoped that in future even more will do so.
Since February 2016 traders who sell online have been required to provide a link to the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Platform. This platform is NOT an ADR body in itself, but is a tool to help the trader and consumer identify and access an appropriate body to deal with their dispute. Once both parties have agreed to ADR and chosen an appropriate ADR body, the platform can assist in the supplying of documents and in communicating between all the parties involved. In accepting to use an approved ADR body, through the ODR platform, the trader and the ADR body are agreeing to limit formality, to complete case handling in reasonable time frames and to do so at relatively low cost. Many of the approved ADR schemes are free to use to the consumer.
If you have a dispute with the trader, look for the link to the ODR platform, on the trader's website. If the trader sells from the website they are required by law to have a link to the platform. If you cannot find the link it may be worthwhile asking the trader where it is and, if it's not available, consider reporting this to your local trading standards service. Reporting the lack of a link will not strengthen your case or mean that the trading standards service will be allowed to pursue your case for you, but it may help ensure the link is provided in future. You can also access the ODR platform through the link on this website.
Once you find the link, click on it and the platform itself will help you through the process. The platform contains a number of user manuals and guides and if you still have problems using the platform, there is a help button where you can contact the ODR contact point for further assistance.