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Your site – style over substance?

Lawyer Andrew Brennan says that agents must include required information on their websites as well as the (very important) engaging content.

Andrew Brennan, Partner, SGH Martineau

it_governance andrew_brennan_sgh_martinea An attractive, engaging website is an essential element of any business in the property sector, but it must meet minimum legal requirements. Many businesses are unaware of the law on websites, mistakenly believing that the rules only apply to e-commerce sites and those selling to consumers.

A UK registered company website must display the company name, place of registration, registered number and address, along with details of any regulator, with the VAT number where appropriate. For sole traders and partnerships, the principal business address must be shown.


In 2011, the laws governing the use of cookies changed, requiring users to now consent to their use and whilst certain ‘strictly necessary’ cookies do not require consent (such as those used for shopping baskets), it’s safer to assume permission is needed, even if it is just to count visitors.

The law does not only apply to direct sales sites. It applies to you.”


With more sites capturing contact details from visitors, to use in marketing campaigns, most compliance issues revolve around the collection, storage, use, sharing or selling of this personal data.

Whilst there’s no problem emailing individuals in relation to their original enquiry, they must be able to unsubscribe from the service. When that email address is used for any other communication, a box, which must not be pre-ticked, must be provided to allow the recipient to opt in or out of receiving additional marketing information. If a website visitor provides address details and phone numbers, a business can contact them by telephone or post for marketing purposes unless or until the individual asks them to stop doing so.


It is likely that businesses in the property sector will collect personal data, like email addresses, date of birth, postal address, phone numbers etc., through visitors interacting with the website. Once a business decides to collect and use this data, it must have a designated data controller, responsible for the data collected. It’s important the business informs everyone what data is being collected and what will be done with it; although not too much detail is required, transparency is the key.

All this should be made clear in the Privacy Policy, which should be easy to find on the site and must contain a method for contacting the designated data controller – an email link will normally suffice.

A tiered approach to the Privacy Policy is recommended by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body responsible for data protection in the UK, with the basic information easy to see in a data protection statement, with further details available on request.


Terms and Conditions are not a legal requirement for websites, but a good set can prevent many problems in the future and help protect the business. They should clearly state what activities the business undertakes and what Intellectual Property (IP) it owns on the site. They should also warn visitors against ‘framing’ or ‘deep linking’ to the site – which might imply some professional endorsement of the site that includes the link.

Most importantly for property websites, a ‘disclaimer of liability,’ should warn visitors the information provided is accurate to the best of the operator’s knowledge but should not be taken as fact.

A growth area for modern websites is allowing ‘user generated content’ (UGC) to be posted, with many businesses recognising the power of allowing individuals to write reviews of the service received. However, when allowing people to add content, the site must have an ‘acceptable use’ policy to protect the business from illegal or offensive material being posted.

This policy effectively creates a contract between the business and the visitor, which if breached with an offensive or illegal posting, allows the business to take action, including removing posts and reporting such activity to the authorities – without the policy the business could be in trouble.

For sites selling goods or services, the most common mistake is using standard ‘terms of use’ when it should be ‘terms of supply’. It’s essential every business uses T&Cs appropriate to its activities – one size does not fit all.

In conclusion, ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law and the rules are pretty straightforward. Non-compliance can be serious, so businesses that suspect their site might not meet the minimum legal requirements, should seek expert advice, ideally from a lawyer with experience of this area of the law and keep their eyes open for any future changes in the rules.

Andrew Brennan is a partner in the Intellectual Property and Technology team at the UK commercial law firm SGH Martineau. He advises on both contentious and non-contentious IP and technology related matters. A regular media contributor, he writes on intellectual property and technology issues, and recently launched the fi rm’s innovative ‘Website Health-check’ initiative to help businesses ensure their websites meet EU legal requirements.

January 21, 2015

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