How can online retailers ensure that their terms and conditions are compliant with changing consumer protection laws?

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) recently reported that, in a survey of 156 of the top UK online retailers, 40% may be breaking consumer protection laws. The relevant online retailers were warned they needed to be fully compliant with the law by the end of 2012 - those that missed the deadline could face enforcement action by the OFT.

Michelle Morgan, a solicitor at Hill Dickinson LLP, says online retailers should regularly check their terms and conditions and practices are legally compliant. Online retailers in the UK are subject to an array of legislation, which has been amended and updated over the years. “It is not surprising that some internet retailers are struggling to keep up with their legal obligations,” she says.

In addition to the well-established consumer protection laws that apply to all business-to-consumer contracts, etailers are also subject to laws specific to online sales, which deal with delivery times, cancellation rights and specific information that online retailers are required to provide to customers.

Where etailers are collecting customer personal data (including using cookies), they also need to be aware of their obligations under privacy and data protection laws.

The new Consumer Rights Bill, which is due to come into force by December 2013, is likely to mean further changes to consumer protection laws, which will also need to be reflected in online practices and website terms and conditions.

Morgan says: “Undertaking regular checks of your online terms and conditions should help you avoid getting unpleasant warnings from the OFT and, importantly, consumers will be able to trust the services they are getting from your website.”