Over the last few years there has been an explosion of online retailers and website set up for business, but did you know that a lot of websites are not legal. Its a common misconception that the internet is not policed but it is and a website needs to conform to the laws of the country it s based in. Below are a list of the laws governing websites for companies based in the UK.
Company Information
Web Accessibility
Data Protection Act
Consumer Protection
Electronic Commerce
EU Anti Spam
EU Cookie Directive

Company Information

From the Companies House website.

As from 1st January 2007 the following applies to :-

Business Stationery 

Whether in hard copy, electronic or any other form:
A company must state its name, in legible lettering, on the following –

  • all the company’s business letters, order forms;
  • all its notices and other official publications;
  • all bills of exchange, promissory notes, endorsements, cheques and orders for money or goods purporting to be signed by, or on behalf of, the company;
  • all its bills of parcels, invoices, receipts and letters of credit
  • on all its websites

On all of its business letters, order forms or any of the company’s web sites, the company must show in legible lettering –

  • its place of registration
  • registered number
  • its registered office address
  • and if it is being wound up, that fact,

Whenever an email is used where its paper equivalent would be caught by the stationery requirements then that email is also subject to the requirements. The above also applies to Limited Liability Partnerships.

This means your website should contain the details above in a location that is easy for your customers to find.

Source http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/promotional/busStationery.shtml

Web Accessibility and the Disability Discrimination Act

Extract from wikipedia

“In the UK, the Equality Act 2010 does not refer explicitly to website accessibility, but makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. The Act applies to anyone providing a service; public, private and voluntary sectors. The Code of Practice: Rights of Access – Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises document published by the government’s Equality and Human Rights Commission to accompany the Act does refer explicitly to websites as one of the “services to the public” which should be considered covered by the Act.”

This means that all websites must take into consideration how there site can be accessed by people with disabilities, this mostly applies to website designers but it should also be considered when adding content yourself.

Source http://www.bbc.co.uk/accessibility/

The Data Protection Act

If you are going to be holding any personal data about a living person you must be registered with the ICO. This includes email addresses for newsletters as well as information required when processing payments and selling goods online. It is necessary for you to register and display your register number on your site, where a user can find it. For more information on Data Protection and to register click the link below.

Source http://www.ico.gov.uk

Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations

The distance selling regulations cover all items bought from online retailers below is a summary of the regulations.

Under the Distance Selling regulations, the purchaser is entitled to key information about the seller, including a geographical address.

The purchaser has the right to cancel the order from the moment it is place until 7 working days from the day after they receive the goods.

If the goods are faulty or not what was ordered, then the seller must pay return postage costs.

If your running an online shop then you are bound by these regulations and must make reference to them in your terms of sale.

Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumer_Protection_%28Distance_Selling%29_Regulations

Electronic Commerce Regulations (EC Directive)

The EU Ecommerce Directive is a policy for online service providers to ensure customers can easily and quickly contact the service provider.

The following information should be shown on your website:

  • Business Name
  • Address.
  • Phone number
  • email address.
  • VAT number if registered.
  • Any trade or professional registration number.
  • Clear info price, tax and delivery.
  • Terms and Conditions.

Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_Commerce_Regulations_2002

The EU Anti Spam Laws

The law takes an “opt-in” approach to unsolicited commercial electronic communications, i.e. users must have given their prior consent before such communications are addressed to them. This opt-in system also covers SMS text messages and other electronic messages received on any fixed or mobile terminal.

This means you must have the users permission before you can sent marketing emails or newsletters to their emails or mobile phones.

Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directive_on_Privacy_and_Electronic_Communications

EU Cookie Law

Although cookies can be turned off by a user on a per browser basis, due to said privacy concerns, the ICO has decided a user must opt in to receive cookies rather than opt out. The EU cookie law which comes into force on May 26th 2012, requires websites to gain consent from visitors to store or receive any information on a computer or any other web connected devices (e.g. smartphone or tablet). The cookie law has been designed to protect online privacy of customers by making them aware, and giving them a choice, about the amount of information collected by websites. After May 26th 2012 if a business is not compliant, or is not visibly working towards compliance, it will run the risk of enforcement action and a possible fine of up to £500,000.

If your site uses analytics or other tracking means or requires the user to login then you are using cookies stored on the users machine and require the user to opt-in.

Source http://ico.org.uk/for_organisations/privacy_and_electronic_communications/the_guide/cookies