Q: I run a small business selling goods online. I recently bought some stock from a supplier in Germany and paid by electronic transfer. When it was delivered, it was clear that the goods were damaged, either before or during shipping. I’ve since tried to get the problem sorted out, but they’re clearly dodging both phonecalls and emails. Unfortunately, I paid up-front for the goods by bank transfer, so I’m not able to cancel payment. Is there anything I can do to get redress, or should I just chalk it up as an expensive lesson?
A: By all means take this episode as a lesson not to pay in full for products up-front from a supplier you don’t trust. However, the matter doesn’t have to be left there. The European Small Claims procedure has been set up to let consumers and small businesses recover up to €2,000. The procedure is enforceable in any EU country and, while it’s not as straightforward as some people would like, it only costs €25.
There are two procedures: a European Order for Payment (EPO), which covers uncontested cross-border monetary claims, and small claims procedure, both of which use standard forms. In this instance, it appears that the small claims procedure is the most appropriate avenue.
To get the ball rolling, you should download and fill in the Form A, which you will find here. Give as much detail as possible – just as in a domestic case of this nature, photographic evidence of the damaged goods delivered should be provided – and send it in to the Registrar in your local District Court office.
If you do not provide enough information, or your claim is outside the scope of the procedure, the Registrar will send you a form asking for the missing information. If your claim is not withdrawn or rejected, the Registrar will proceed with it, notifying the other firm and requesting that they complete a standard answer form within 30 days.
From here, things can go a number of ways. The defendant can issue a counterclaim (which would be unlikely in your case) or contest the claim – in that instance, the Registrar will attempt to negotiate a solution between you and the defendant. If this fails, the claim will be referred to the District Court for judgement. The court will either judge on the matter within 30 days, request further information, or -if either party requests it – hold an oral hearing. This can be done by video conference, and the court will give its judgement within 30 days of getting the information or holding the oral hearing.
From there, you’re seeking enforcement of any court order under French law. In reality, though, it’s highly unlikely that the matter will proceed this far if the matter is as clear as you say. Even threatening the small claims procedure may be enough to get this supplier responding, so our advice would be to write and give them 14 days notice before you send in the forms.