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Top tips to comply with online consumer protection laws

The Office of Fair Trading recently wrote to 62 of the top online retailers after a review of more than 150 websites found signs that many weren’t complying with consumer protection laws. But it’s not just big businesses whose websites need to make sure their websites meet legal requirements.

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The Office of Fair Trading recently wrote to 62 of the top online retailers after a review of more than 150 websites found signs that many weren't complying with consumer protection laws. But it's not just big businesses that need to make sure their websites meet legal requirements. If you use your business website to sell online, you need to make sure it complies with relevant distance selling regulations, such as the E-Commerce Regulations 2002. Here are the basics: You must provide a full geographic address where your company is based. A PO Box won't do. You are required to provide an email address, but many business websites only provide a web contact form. Many sites provide no electronic contact details at all. You must indicate that compulsory charges such as postage and packaging and taxes upfront that compulsory charges will be added to the price shown. If your business is VAT registered, you must display your VAT number somewhere on your website. You must provide information on cancellations and not impose unreasonable restrictions on a customer's right to a refund, for example, requiring that the product must be in the original packaging or in the original condition, which can infringe on consumers' rights to reasonably inspect the product. Full refunds plus a refund of delivery charges should be given when something goes wrong. You should give clear details of how payment can be made through the site. Websites should provide details on when the goods will be delivered or the service will start. Also, under the Companies Act, if you are a registered company, you must also include your company name, number and registered office address (if this is different to your geographic address) on your website. Traders that do not comply with the law risk formal enforcement action from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) or Local Trading Standards Services. If you sell goods and services over the Internet, telephone, by text or by mail order, the OFT has developed a Distance Selling Hub, to help you assess and comply with the laws that apply to your business. Other legal considerations for your website include your responsibilities under the Data Protection Act if you obtain and store customers' information. Plus, if you process customers' credit card details you must comply with PCI DSS regulations.

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