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Advertising and Selling - Guidance for providers of services

This guidance has been produced by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets Trading Standards Service to help providers comply with some key legal requirements which apply when advertising and/or selling online.

In addition to the regulations that apply specifically to selling online, existing trading standards laws relating to business names, unfair trading practices and contracts for goods and services will also apply. Guidance on some of these requirements has been included below.

There are two sets of regulations that apply specifically to trading online. The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 apply generally to all websites that promote a business activity. The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 will apply only if customer can enter into transactions online or other distance methods that have no face-to-face contact.

1. Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002

With one exception for very simple websites, these regulations apply to all electronic communications designed to promote goods or services offered by a business.

1.1 Simple advertising websites

The exception mentioned above is for websites that contain only your: 

  • business name details
  • telephone number
  • a geographic address
  • a domain name or an email address
  • together with a simple description of your services

This exception will allow you to describe the services you offer so as to enable potential customers to contact you directly for further details.

1.2 "Trading" websites

If your website includes more detail than in the bullet points above you will have to comply with the minimum information requirements set out in these regulations. The checklist below sets out the minimum requirements. You must show those that are applicable to your service or goods:

  • Business name
    • If your trading name is different from your own name you must show your own name
    • If your business is a company, you must show the registered name of the company together with its registered number and its registered office address.
  • Address details, which must include
    • A geographic address. This may be your business address or, if based at your home, your residential address or, a PO Box.
    • An email address so customers can contact you quickly and directly.
  • VAT number, if you have one.
  • Description of the goods or services being offered. These must include the "main characteristics" that will be sufficiently clear to allow the "average customer" of your particular goods or services to be able to make an informed choice. (John comment  - This may require consideration of the disabilities of the potential customers)
  • Pricing information, inclusive of taxes and showing any delivery charge. If the actual price will be calculated to meet the specific product being offered you can show the method of its calculation, e.g cost per week.
  • If the price is time-limited, how long the offer is to last.
  • Any written terms and conditions
  • Details of stages involved in the ordering process
  • Where the contract is to be carried out by electronic means, details of the different technical steps to follow to conclude the contract and the point at which your customer will commit themselves
  • A statement indicating that when buying goods or services on the internet the customer is entering into a legally binding contract.
  • Information about availability, despatch and delivery of goods
  • Information about substitutes in the event of the chosen goods or services not being available.
  • The cost of returning unsatisfactory substitute goods
  • A clear complaints procedure
  • Information about withdrawal or cancellation rights
  • Details of any registration scheme or professional body you belong to.
  • Details of any Code of Practice you subscribe to.

In addition to the above, data protection legislation requires the following:

  • A data protection statement
  • A privacy policy
  • A cookie policy
  • An opt-in box for unsolicited emails

2. Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000

These are commonly called the "Distance Selling Regulations" and, as this name suggests, they apply to all forms of selling where there is no face-to-face contact with your customer before a sale or contract is agreed. For example, if you advertise on eMarketplace and then make all further arrangements by telephone, the Distance Selling Regulations will apply.

Key features of these regulations:

  • The customer must be given clear information about the goods or services to be offered
  • After agreeing a purchase the customer must be sent confirmation of the contract
  • Cancellation Rights: For the majority of contracts a cooling-off period will apply. Your customer will have the right to cancel within 7 working days from the day the contract for services was made and, for goods, from the day after their delivery.
  • In contracts for services, the provider must give information about how the cancellation rights may be affected if the customer agrees to performance beginning before the 7 day cooling-off period has ended.

3. Provision of Services Regulations 2009

Providers should also be aware of the Provision of Services Regulations 2009. Although these do not apply to healthcare services, nor to social services provided by State/Charitable bodies, there may be a few providers falling outside these exemptions.
The Regulations make requirements relating to indications of name, address and location, as well as supply of information such as prices on request. 

4.    Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008

If you are simply describing or promoting the goods and/or services that you are offering to provide then there are no specific legal requirements about what must be included but there is a general prohibition of unfair commercial practices. These prohibitions are set out in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (the CPRs).

Any fair dealing business is likely to be complying with the CPRs and so you should not have to make any major changes to your practices. The purpose of the CPRs is to ensure that any business that promotes, sells or supplies goods and services to consumers does not give any false or misleading information or, gives insufficient information (misleading by omission) or, behaves aggressively. These regulations apply to your statements and actions both before and during any transaction.

For further guidance and advice:

This guidance is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended to assist you plan your webpages. More detailed guidance on these regulations can be found at the following websites:

Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 guidance

Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 and Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 guidance

If you want some more detailed advice please contact the local Trading Standards Service where you business is based. You will find all the contact details by entering your postcode in the "Need Help" search.

If you are a food establishment, e.g preparing meals, you may need to register with your local Environmental Health service so that food hygiene inspection can be carried out. You will find basic guidance and a search facility for your local Environmental Health service.

5. Provider approvals and Ensuring Quality scheme

Services which are commissioned and monitored by Tower Hamlets council or the Tower Hamlets CCG, will automatically be 'passported' on to the Tower Hamlets Community Catalogue if:

  • They have an existing contract with ELS boroughs that teams are currently placing with;
  • and are working to a specification/contract equivalent to or above the Ensuring Quality standards. 

For services which are not commissioned, providers will need to apply to the ELS Quality Assurance scheme before these services can be listed on the Tower Hamlets Community Catalogue. 

The ELS Quality Assurance scheme is a sub-regional quality assurance scheme set up by the six east London boroughs (Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest).  It applies to micro-providers, day opportunities, floating support and supported living, and non-traditional social care services such as leisure and recreational type provision.  There are separate standards for Micro-Providers, Day Opportunities, Floating Support and Supported Living. The standards contain things that Service Users, Commissioners and Providers have told us are important to them.  There is one set of agreed standards across all the 6 east London boroughs.  Providers resubmit their application every 12 months along with evidence from service user feedback.   

For more information on the Ensuring Quality scheme, please click here.