The Internet has made it easier than ever for businesses to enter new markets nationally and internationally, but there are regulations governing businesses trading online, including how businesses must identify themselves.
Internet regulation has historically been driven by the EU with the fundamental aims of harmonizing national laws governing e-commerce and promoting consumer confidence in the use of online businesses.
Information required from all website operators
The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 require that all providers of online services must make the following information available to the users of their service:
- Their full name;
- Their physical, geographical address;
- Contact details, including e-mail address;
- Details of any relevant supervisory authority; and
- VAT number if applicable
If the service provider is a corporate entity, its company registration number or details of any other register in which the service provider is entered, and his registration number (or equivalent means of identification) in that register;
In addition, the service provider is required, before the conclusion of a contract, to 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. That information does not necessarily have to be a telephone number; it could be an electronic enquiry template through which a customer can contact the service provider via the internet, and to which the service provider will reply by e-mail. However, the service provider has to supply a non-electronic means of communication to enable the customer to make contact if he or she finds him or herself without access to the electronic network and requests a non-electronic means of communication.
Information required from companies
Following the introduction of the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008, companies must now include the following information on their websites (including on any website pages which the company has "caused or authorised to appear"):
- The company's registered name;
- The part of the UK in which the company is registered;
- Its registered number; and
- The address of its registered office.
These are additional requirements for particular types of company (such as investment companies) and a company which is being wound up, must include a statement on all of the company's websites that the company is being wound up.
The Office of Fair Trading has lead responsibility for action taken in the UK in respect of infringements by businesses of their legal obligations to consumers. This is an area of its work which the OFT takes seriously; a new team has been established within the OFT to investigate websites, internet scams and other online activities which are likely to result in economic harm to consumers and to gather evidence of such activities. Businesses would be well advised to inform themselves of the requirements and ensure that their websites comply.
Caroline Redhead is an Associate Solicitor at Burnetts and will be presenting a free session on the legal issues around websites and e-commerce on 1st June 2010 at Westlakes Science & Technology Park. For further information contact Emma Barnes on 01228 552222 or visit our events pages.All Factsheets