UK: Is Your Website Legal?

Last Updated: 3 October 2014
Article by Katie Cooper

Summary and implications

With the steady growth in the use of the internet for e-commerce has come the introduction of legislation requiring website operators to disclose certain information on their websites to protect the interests of their customers and users.

This briefing will summarise some of the key information has to be disclosed by website operators.

Failure to comply with these information requirements can result in action being taken by consumer protection bodies or by customers themselves. It can also result in damage to a business's reputation.

Information which must be provided by all website operators

Every website operator must publish the following information:

  • Its name.
  • Its geographical address.
  • Contact details including an email address.
  • Information on how it can be contacted by non-electronic means.
  • Where it is subject to authorisation scheme, details of the relevant supervisory authority.
  • Where its activities are subject to VAT, its VAT number.

Information required from different types of website operator

Different information requirements apply according to the nature and structure of a website operator's business, how the operator uses their website and who its customers are. The table below provides a summary of these requirements.

Information required from limited companies

If the operator is a company it must disclose:

* The company's registered name.
* The part of the UK in which the company is registered.
* The company's registered company.
* The company's registered office address.
* Where the company is exempt from having the word "limited" in its registered name, the fact that it is a limited company.

Information required from members of regulated professions

If a website operator is a member of a regulated profession (such as a solicitor or accountant) the website must also provide details of the professional body with which it is registered and a reference to the professional rules which apply.

Information required where contracts are concluded online

If a website is used to sell goods or service online, the customer must be provided with the following information:

* A description of the different technical steps that the customer must follow to conclude the contract.
* Confirmation of whether or not the contract will be filed and, if so, whether the customer can access it.
* A description of the technical means for the customer to identify and correct orders before placing an order.
* The languages offered for the conclusion of the contract.

Information where contracts with consumers are concluded online

If the customer is a consumer, the customer must be given   additional information, including a description of the goods or services being sold, the prices payable and arrangements for delivery or performance, and details of the customer's right to cancel under certain statutory cooling-off periods.

The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, which apply to all contracts made on or after 13 June 2014 changed the information required and extended the cooling-off period. For more information, please see our earlier briefing  Key Changes in Consumer Law

Privacy policy

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, if a business collects and uses information that relates to a living person who can be identified from that information (personal data) it needs to give the person information on what personal data will collected and how it will be used. The information required includes:

  • The identity of the business.
  • What personal data the business will collect.
  • What use will be made of the personal data.
  • Any other information needed to give the person a reasonable idea of how the personal data will be used (including the identity of any third parties it will be shared with).

This information must usually be given before data is collected so where information about customers or prospective customers is collected via the website, it is typical for the information to be given in a privacy policy on the website. 

Cookies policy

Many websites use cookies in order to obtain certain information about visitors.  The use of cookies is lawful only if the visitor has been given clear and comprehensive information about the cookies that are in use and has consented to their use.

All websites that use cookies should therefore have information on them about the cookies in use and obtain consent to their use.

Consent can be expressed, for instance if the visitor is required to tick a box consenting to the use of cookies. It can also implied if the website operator has brought the use of cookies to the visitor's attention and the visitor has proceeded to use the website. This could be achieved by a pop-up notice or displaying a very clear link to their cookies policy on the website homepage.

Other considerations

In addition to the above matters, there is other information that website operators might wish to include on their website. 

For instance, where the operator sells products or services online, it should include terms and conditions of supply and require the customer to signify their consent to them before proceeding. 

In addition, the operator might also want to include website terms of use which dictate how a visitor to the site can use it and specify what use the operator can make of any information the visitor posts.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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