Companies in the UK must include certain regulatory information on their websites and in their email footers before 1st January 2007 or they will breach the Companies Act and risk a fine.
Every company should list its company registration number, place of registration and registered office address on its website as a result of an update to the legislation of 1985. The information, which must be in legible characters, should also appear on order forms and in emails. Such information is already required on 'business letters' but the duty is being extended to websites, order forms and electronic documents.
The change is being made by a Statutory Instrument that is expected to be passed on Thursday to implement a European law, the First Company Law Amendment Directive, into UK law. According to a Department of Trade and Industry spokesperson, the law will take effect on 1st January, one day later than the Directive requires. (The Companies (Registrar, Languages and Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2006 has now been passed.)
The information is likely to appear in the footer of every email sent from a company, to avoid having to decide whether each email amounts to a 'business letter' or not. Many companies do this already because the term 'business letters' was thought likely to include emails even without this new clarification.
For websites, contrary to the fears of some, the specified information does not need to appear on every page. Again, many websites will already list the required information, perhaps on their 'About us' or 'Legal info' pages.
The E-commerce Regulations, passed in 2002, require that certain information is listed on a website, including, "where the service provider is registered in a trade or similar register available to the public, details of the register in which the service provider is entered and his registration number, or equivalent means of identification in that register".
That has been understood as including the company registration number and place of registration. The E-commerce Regulations also required a note of "the geographic address at which the service provider is established" – which many have taken to mean the registered office address.
However, the wording in the E-commerce Regulations is ambiguous compared to the new provisions. Further, many organisations' sites currently omit the information, perhaps making the mistake of thinking that the E-commerce Regulations do not apply to websites that do not sell online (in fact they apply to almost all websites).
Information that must be on your website: an aide memoire
The following is the minimum information that must be on any company's website (from OUT-LAW's guide, The UK's E-commerce Regulations).
- The name, geographic address and email address of the service provider. The name of the organisation with which the customer is contracting must be given. This might differ from the trading name. Any such difference should be explained – e.g. "XYZ.com is the trading name of XYZ Enterprises Limited." It is not sufficient to include a 'contact us' form without also providing an email address and geographic address somewhere easily accessible on the site. 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.
- If a company, the company's registration number should be given and, under the Companies Act, the place of registration should be stated (e.g. "XYZ Enterprises Limited is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 1234567")
- If the business is a member of a trade or professional association, membership details, including any registration number, should be provided.
- If the business has a VAT number, it should be stated – even if the website is not being used for e-commerce transactions.
- Prices on the website must be clear and unambiguous. Also, state whether prices are inclusive of tax and delivery costs.
Finally, do not forget the Distance Selling Regulations which contain other information requirements for online businesses that sell to consumers (B2C, as opposed to B2B, sales). For details of these requirements, see our guide, The Distance Selling Regulations - An Overview.
For help with email notices, such as disclaimers, see OUT-LAW's guide on Email notices.