Consumer rights only have a purpose if they can also be asserted. For various reasons (including the risk of court costs, psychological inhibitions, low value of the dispute, fear of the time which needs to be invested), only a small number of consumer disputes ever come to court. Settling conflicts out of court is an important additional possibility which consumers have when exercising their rights. Some sectors of business and industry in Austria do have conciliation services. However, there has not been a nationwide system until now.
The Directive 2013/11/EU on alternative dispute resolution for consumer disputes has now changed this. During the implementation of this directive, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act (AStG) was adopted in Austria. From 9 January 2016 there has been a service responsible for alternative resolutions to almost all disputes which result from a contract between a consumer and a company.
There are a total of eight officially recognised conciliation services which are responsible for different fields. Some of them already existed, such as those in the fields of energy, telecommunications, passengers' rights and postal services. These eight government-approved conciliation bodies are characterised by guarantees laid down in the Act (AStG, see above) such as independence, transparency and effectivity. A new element introduced by the AStG is a conciliation service for consumer transactions which do not come under the responsibility of existing services.Outside this system there are already other (especially regional) existing conciliation services in some fields (for disputes related to chimney sweeps, for example). These will continue to exist, but they are not subject to the provisions of the AStG.
A list of the services and contact details are provided on the consumer website of the Ministry of Social Affairs.