Nowadays almost every company has its own website. Under recent legislation, websites may be required to contain certain specific information. It is clear that a large number of websites do not yet meet the new requirements.
Some websites are only intended to be informative, while others also enable users to order products and/or services. Depending upon the purpose of a website and its users, Dutch law and European directives may oblige the entity operating the website (the "website owner") to provide certain information to its users.
Every website providing information for which a fee is usually charged or which represents a certain economic value must state at least the following about the website owner:
- name and geographic address;
- e-mail address and telephone number;
- trade register in which the website owner is registered and the registration number;
- insofar as the activity referred to in the website is subject to authorisation and/or the website owner is a member of a regulated profession, the particulars of the relevant supervisory authority and /or details on the professional body with which the website owner is registered and a reference to the professional rules and the means to access them;
- VAT number.
If goods and/or services are offered through the website, the prices, taxes and delivery costs must be stated as well. In addition, the following information must be provided before an order is placed:
- the different technical steps required to conclude the contract;
- whether or not the contract will be filed and, if so, the manner in which it will be accessible;
- the technical means for identifying and correcting input errors before the contract is concluded;
- the languages in which the contract can be concluded;
- whether or not codes of conduct are applicable.
The seller must electronically confirm receipt of the order as soon as possible.
Consumers are granted more protection than non-consumers. A website offering goods and/or services must provide consumers with at least the following additional information:
- the characteristics of the products or services offered;
- the payment method;
- notification of the existence of the consumer's right to rescind the contract without stating any reason, which may be exercised within seven days for goods and services in general and, if the pending EU proposal on this subject is adopted, 30 days for financial products and or services;
- the costs of using the means of distance communication where they are calculated other than at the basic rate;
- the period during which the offer or the price remains valid;
- where appropriate, the minimum duration of the contract in the case of contracts for the supply of;
- goods or services to be performed permanently or recurrently.
If the website owner gives a warranty to consumers, he must state that the warranty does not affect the consumer's statutory rights. The content of the warranty (including the warranty period) and essential information regarding how the warranty can be enforced by the consumer must be stated in clear terms.
Most of the information referred to above can be included in general terms and conditions, although due care must be taken to ensure that such terms and conditions are effectively made part of the agreement. This can be accomplished, for instance, by providing a hyperlink to such terms and by requiring the customer to accept these general terms and conditions explicitly by clicking on: “I accept the general terms and conditions” prior to concluding the contract. The customer must also be able to read the general terms and conditions, save them and make a print-out. A failure to provide the above information can lead to sanctions varying from an extension of the period during which a consumer is permitted to rescind the contract to either annulment or rescission of the contract.
In light of legislative developments in this field, it is essential that websites be regularly reviewed and updated not only for commercial but also for legal reasons.