Legal Requirements for E-Commerce Websites in the UK

In the UK, a merchant website legally needs to concern itself with 3 things: what needs to be implemented on the site, their obligations and their customers' rights.

Obviously this FAQ answer is a simplified summary and is not a suitable substitute for professional legal advice.

 
 The Duties of an E-Merchant

To meet the E-commerce Regulations implemented by the European E-Commerce Directive as well as the Companies Act 2006, you MUST have several things on your site:
  • The name of your business,*
  • The company registration number,*
  • The place of registration,*
  • The registered office address,*
  • Your VAT registration number,
  • Your geographic address and other contact details including your email address,
  • Details of any publicly available register in which you are entered, together with your registration number or equivalent,
  • The particulars of the supervisory body, if the service is subject to an authorisation scheme,
  • Details of any professional body with which you are registered,
  • If your site uses cookies, details of your use of cookies,
  • Clearly indicate whether prices include tax and delivery,
  • Details about the supplier and the terms of the transaction,
  • Also: a notice of cancellation rights, the complaints procedure, after-sales services and guarantees.
*These elements should also be present on your emails.
 
 The Obligations of an E-Shopkeeper

When a customer places an order you have virtually entered into a contract (according to your terms of transaction) with the customer and as such, you must:
  • When a customer places an order, you must acknowledge receipt without undue delay
  • You must provide written confirmation of their orders
  • Goods should be delivered within 30 days unless otherwise agreed.
 
 The Rights of the Consumer

There is a cooling-off period of seven working days in which the customer can cancel the contract, starting from reception of the goods, without having to give a reason. If the merchant neglects to inform of the cooling-off period, it is extended to three months.

The consumer can exercise his right to withdraw even after the goods have been delivered, or the services have been provided. He is entitled to receive a full refund for a cancelled purchase within 30 days.

Some exceptions to these rights of cancellation are:
  • Accommodation, transport, catering or leisure services, where these services are supplied on a specific date or for a specific period
  • Customised goods or perishable goods
  • Sealed audio or video recordings, or software, which have been opened
  • Sales by auction
For further information on UK e-commerce law we recommend reading Ecommerce and the law section of Business Link.
 
 Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) Notification

The Data Protection Act 1998 requires every data controller who is processing personal information in an automated form to notify, unless they are exempt. Failure to notify is a criminal offence. Register entries have to be renewed annually. If you are required to notify but donít renew your registration, you are committing a criminal offence.

Most organisations that process personal data must notify the ICO. However, there are some exemptions.

For more information about ICO notification we suggest reading "Do I Need to Notify?" on www.ico.gov.uk
 
 Electronic mail (email marketing and newsletters)

Electronic mail marketing messages should not be sent to individuals without their permission unless all these following criteria are met:
  • You have obtained the recipients details through a sale or negotiations for a sale.
  • The messages are about similar products or services you offer.
  • The recipients were given an opportunity to refuse the marketing when their details were collected and, if they did not refuse, you provide a simple way to opt out in every future communication.
 

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