Website regulations and how they effect you
If you are business in the UK with a website, new legislation has become law (January 1, 2007), which if you don't comply, will leave you will in breach on the Companies Act and risking a fine.
Although this law was primarily aimed at e-commerce sites, it is applicable, and enforceable to virtually every website. The easiest way to think of it is that your website is has the same requirements as your letter headed stationery / invoice.
Although a more comprehensive article is listed below, and links for further reading, I would advise that the following details should be posted clearly on your site:
- The service provider's name (not the trading name) needs to be prominent and accessible.
- The service provider's email address has to be given, contact forms are not sufficient.
- The service provider's geographic address must be given (PO Box are not allowed)
- If the business is a company, the registered office address and registration number must be included.
- If the business has memberships of a trade or professional associations, the membership details, including registration numbers, should be provided.
- VAT registered companies must display their number.
Where to apply website regulations
To keep your website clean and legal, i would recommend incorporating the company registration and VAT details at the footnote of every page.
If you site has a background page, this would be ideal place to detail membership of trade / associations.
A contact page would be the ideal place to display your company owner, registered office address etc.
These are my interpretations of the law as advised by Pinsent Masons, however you should seek your own legal advise to ensure compliance.
A more in depth look at website regulations and legislation
Whether your business is trading on-line or not, it is almost certainly affected by the E-commerce Regulations which came into force in the UK on 21st August 2002. They cover more than just e-commerce.
The Regulations, properly called the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002, implement the EU's E-commerce Directive into UK law. The Directive was introduced to clarify and harmonise the rules of on-line business throughout Europe with the aim of boosting consumer confidence. The Directive was passed in June 2000. The UK missed its implementation deadline by over eight months.
This article explains the rules with reference to the Regulations, which follow closely the terms of the Directive itself.
What is covered?
Virtually every commercial website is covered by the Regulations.
he Regulations refer to an "information society service." This is defined as "any service normally provided for remuneration at a distance, by means of electronic equipment for the processing (including digital compression) and storage of data, at the individual request of a recipient of the service."
This covers more than just e-commerce businesses. The UK's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has explained that it is not restricted to buying and selling online but also covers those offering online information or commercial communications (e.g. adverts) or providing tools for search, access and retrieval of data. Also covered is video on demand, web hosting or operating a communications network.
A business cannot escape the terms of the Regulations by locating its servers in, say, California. The Regulations look at where a business is based, not where its equipment is based.
The Directive applies to the Member States of the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the 15 Member States of the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Exclusions from the web Regulations
The Directive and Regulations do not address where you can sue or be sued, although they do provide for the law which applies in the event of a dispute in some circumstances.
Further, the Directive and Regulations do not apply to tax, gambling or lotteries and do not affect data protection laws or cartel laws.
Whose laws apply?
The Regulations apply a "country of origin" principle. In its simplest form, this means that as long as a UK business complies with UK laws, it can "ignore" the laws of other Member States. If this rule applied throughout the EU, it would be good news for businesses, because it lets them target consumers in all Member States without needing to follow the rules of 18 different countries. However, recognizing that such an approach would be bad news for consumers, this basic rule is qualified.
Minimum information to be provided
Service providers, whether involved in e-commerce or not, should provide the following minimum information, which must be easily, directly and permanently accessible:
1.The name of the service provider must be given somewhere easily accessible on the site. This might differ from the trading name and any such difference should be explained – e.g. "XYZ.com is the trading name of XYZ Enterprises Limited."
2. The email address of the service provider must be given. It is not sufficient to include a 'contact us' form without also providing an email address.
3. The geographic address of the service provider must be given. A PO Box is unlikely to suffice as a geographic address; but a registered office address would. If the business is a company, the registered office address must be included in any event.
4. If a company, the company's registration number should also be given.
5. If a company, the place of registration should be stated (e.g. "XYZ Enterprises Limited is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 1234567") though this is a requirement of the Companies Act as from 31st December 2006, not the E-commerce Directive.
6. If the business is a member of a trade or professional association, membership details, including any registration number, should be provided.
7. If the business has a VAT number, it should be stated – even if the website is not being used for e-commerce transactions.
8. Prices on the web site must be clear and unambiguous. Also, state whether prices are inclusive of tax and delivery costs.
Article published by Pinsent Masons, International IT and e-commerce law firm.