UK Websites Legal Compliance

19/10/2016

ComplianceOne question I get asked a lot, especially if I raise the issue that it is not the case with a potential client’s existing website, is:

What is required to make a UK website legal?

Not only have I had this question from clients, but also from other web designers who have contacted me regarding their existing clients, a trend I find to be quite disturbing amongst the web-designers in the industry today.  This does mean though that a lot of websites are being trusted to be designed correctly by professionals, but more often than not, these pages are missed entirely.  Not only that though, but also website creation services and websites,  never enforce their clients to adhere to website legal information.

 

Why do we need legal pages on a website?

The simplest answer, is that these policies and information protect both the website owner and the visitors to the website against legal proceedings.  With these pages easily linked and displayed, a visitor need only click on the link to read how the policy affects them, and if available, how to remedy any unwanted situation.

What is the minimum information required for a UK website?

The minimum will depend on whether the website represents a group, a company, a sole trader or simply is a fan or hobby page.  There are three pages that every UK website requires.  These three policies dictate how information gathered by interacting with the website is used:

  1. Privacy Policy – This policy is to show that any details or statistics gathered of visitors to the website, and of those that use the contact form to email the website owner, is kept strictly confidential.  It explains how contact details are used, and indicates opt-in procedures for things like newsletters, and how statistics are only used to better market the website.
  2. Cookie Policy – Cookies are little files kept on your computer every time you visit a website.  Some contain login details, others help with statistic gathering, but for any website in these times to work effectively, cookies need to be enabled.  A good policy though will also explain how to disable them as well if a visitor so chooses, and the effect that will have on viewing the website.
  3. Terms of Use – This is simply the terms of use for the website for visitors.  By using the website, visitors agree to these terms.  A good policy will list all relevant information related to the use of the website.

When it comes to limited companies, those who are registered on Companies House, should at the very least have their company number on the website, as well as the head office address, in addition to the three policies mentioned above.  For e-commerce websites there are further legal pages required as well.

How do you know if your website is legally compliant?

The simplest way is to ask an expert.  If you are unsure, you can contact me for a swift appraisal, or speak with your solicitor who may be able to guide you in such matters.  I can also create the necessary policies for your website if you so desire.

What are the risks of not being legally compliant?

If a website fails to comply with some or all of the rules listed above, it could generate two kinds of legal liability: civil liability and criminal liability. Civil liability may lead to injunctions and damages payments; criminal liability could mean a fine and a criminal record, and possibly worse.

In relation to websites, civil liability is more prevalent, although not necessarily less serious. For example, companies need to take care when copying text, images and other material from third parties – failure to do so could lead to a copyright infringement lawsuit. You should also check that your domain name and other branding elements do not infringe another party’s trademark rights.

Another significant risk is libel. Any derogatory comments posted on a website – by the website owner or a third party – could give rise to a defamation claim. Website owners must vigorously monitor their content to ensure that they are not subjected to libel action.

There is also a substantial volume of additional legislation designed to protect consumers which places special obligations upon website owners, breach of which can result in criminal liability. These include breach of data protection laws, obscenity, racial hatred and the laws of contempt of court.

This last answer was quoted from The UK Web Design Association Website.