E-Commerce: Publicity requirements

Alison Lonsdale, Solicitor. Alison specialises in commercial matters including e-commerce.

A recent study has suggested that online retail sales in the UK will increase by 11 per cent annually between 2011 and 2016.  Almost every business has a website and websites are of course a pre-requisite to online trading.  It is therefore remarkable how many businesses fail to provide the basic information required by law to appear on their websites.

As part of a series looking at online trading, this note summarises the key information that websites ought to contain.  By this note’s very nature it is an overview and not detailed advice tailored to your particular circumstances.  I hope you find it useful but you should not act or omit to act without taking specific legal advice.

Background

To promote the use of the internet for e-commerce, the EU agreed that certain provisions would have to be put in place to create confidence in the online services provided by website operators.

These European directives were introduced into the UK through the Distance Selling Regulations and the E-commerce Regulations.

Information required on all websites

All online providers of services must make the following information available:

  • Their full legal name.
  • The physical address where they are located.
  • The details of the service provider, including an e-mail address.
  • If the service provider undertakes an activity that is subject to value added tax, a VAT registration number.

Certain other information may be required in particular circumstances e.g. by regulatory bodies.  The footer at the bottom of our page shows our registration number with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Telephone numbers

The European Court of Justice has also ruled that under the European directive upon which the UK regulations are based, a provider of online services must, before the conclusion of a contract, provide consumers with information, in addition to its e-mail address, which would allow consumers to communicate with it in a direct and effective manner – e.g. a telephone number.

Information required for companies

Under the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations, companies must include the following information on their websites :

  • the company’s registered name;
  • the part of the United Kingdom in which the company is registered e.g. England and Wales;
  • its registered number; and
  • the address of its registered office.

Although there are any number of ways of communicating this information, the above requirements can easily be dealt with by a simple statement along the following lines on your website:

[name] Limited is a [private] limited company registered in England and Wales under company number [number].  Its registered office is at [address].

For certain companies there is other information that they need to display.  For advice on your circumstances please contact us.

Online Contracts and the Distance Selling Regulations

In the next of these notes I will be looking at the information to be given where the website is used to conclude online contracts and the requirements of the Distance Selling Regulations.

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