By Guy Clapperton

Most businesses by now have a website — businesses reading this newsletter will almost certainly be among that majority. There remain many poor examples because of design issues and unskilled use of the language but even more basically there are a number which are in breach of the law.

On 31 December 2006* the Companies Act of 2007 came into force, updating the similarly-named Act of 1985. This has the dubious distinction of being the longest piece of legislation ever to pass into British law and it’s worth familiarising yourself with its contents.

A number of issues come under the purview of a virtual IT director in the Act, particularly as regards web design and e-mails. It is now mandatory to have your registered address, registration number and place of registration on your website as well as on order forms and on e-mails. If you have more than one corporate identity — perhaps one of these ‘XX trading as YY’ accounts — then you need to make this clear on all of your literature including websites. You need to state your VAT number and an e-mail address — simply putting a contact form up is no longer enough. Fortunately all of this information needs to appear once only rather than on every page of a website as had originally been feared by many.

This effectively brings laws that previously applied only in the hard copy paper world to the electronic media. The changes are the result of a European directive called the First Company Law Amendment Directive, and if your sites and e-mail aren’t suitably upgraded already you’re in breach of it. In addition, everything in the distance selling directive that was already law still applies.

There are also a number of considerations relating to the Disability Discrimination Act that people specifying websites will need to consider. Essentially you’re not allowed to lock deaf, partially-sighted or blind people out of your site, however unintentionally. This has been law since 1999 and worryingly a lot of organisations have been in breach of the law ever since. The full text of the statutory instrument that brought it into force is at http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2002/20020720.htm

Probably the biggest area of concern regarding the DDA is that it is entirely lawful for someone with a disability to sue a company whose website is unreadable by them. If you or your web designer are unsure about how you stand on this, the W3C — the authority that effectively governs the web — has put some guidelines at http://www.w3.org/TR/WAI-WEBCONTENT/full-checklist.html which talk you through some of the basics.

? Yes we could have told you this last issue but look, we’d only just started!