Whether you want to include just the bare minimum information that the law requires you to display on your website, or appreciate that more extensive information will increase trust in your site, a useful starting point is to know what the law requires.
There are two aspects to this. Firstly the local legal regulations that apply within the UK, and secondly the EU wide regulations that apply to businesses within the EU.
The Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002 are often overlooked. These require websites to show the following information in an easily accessible form:
• The name of the service provider. (So, if your trading name is different to your registered company name, you must provide details of the company name. Similarly, you will need to provide details of the names of the partners or sole traders behind the website).
• The email address of the service provider as well as a geographic address, rather than a PO Box.
• Membership details of any professional trade association including a registration number should also be detailed on the website.
• Details of the VAT registration number of the business.
As for VAT, specific details are available on the HMRC website here. As mentioned the Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002 require ‘service providers’ to display their VAT number on their website.
Under the Companies Act 1985 and 2006, company websites must display the company name along with the registered office, the place of registration and the registration number – just as with other official company correspondence.
Any company or limited liability partnership which trades under a name which is not the same as the corporate name is also governed by the Business Names Act 1985 (see below). So if X Ltd trades under the name of X Business Repairs and Spares, the company would need to ensure that the provisions of the Business Names Act 1985 are complied with, and display the company as “X Repairs and Spares is a trading name of X Ltd”
Sole Traders and Partnerships
While incorporated companies are usually well aware of the disclosure requirements under the Companies Act 1985 and 2006, sole traders and partnerships are less aware of the legal obligations imposed on them under the Business Names Act 1985.
Sole traders and partnerships are in fact required to disclose their trading name and to also to identify the names of the individuals behind the business. So, for a partnership, each partner’s name must be displayed (unless there are more than 20 partners in which case they may display the names at their physical premises instead). Also a physical address where documents can be served (usually your trading address) should be given. There is no scope to bury contact details away from potential customers either, as businesses must show the information clearly for those dealing with the business to see. Generally, this should be on the Contact page. The provisions state that the information must be shown ‘clearly’:
• in any place where you carry on your business and where you deal with customers or suppliers;
• on business correspondence ;
• on websites;
• on written orders for the supply of goods or services;
• on invoices and receipts.
Whilst these legal provisions may be viewed as burdensome by some people, it is worth noting that non compliance is a criminal offence (under the Business Names Act 1985 and Companies legislation). In certain circumstances, non compliance could render your contracts unenforceable. However, even if in practice, nobody is policing the regulations, it is nevertheless a good idea to observe these legal requirements in order to build confidence in the site. Generally, on the web trust is an issue, and the more open you are about who you are and what you do, and how you may be contacted, the more likely people are to buy from your site. Add a telephone number if you can, prominently on every page of the site, even though you are not required to give such information.
The About us page of any website is an opportunity to provide as much information as possible about the business, as well as on any e- commerce sections of your store. The About us page is often the most visited page on an e-commerce site.
So, embracing what might at first glance appear to be rigid legal requirements is in our view a positive way for you to give confidence to your customers. In any business venture, people like to know who they are dealing with, and the online environment is no different. People need to know that you are tangible and that you will rectify any problems they may experience when doing business with you.