Legal Requirements

In business we all use email; it’s the life blood of everything we do, but are you meeting all of your legal obligations with regard to what you include in your email content?

In this short article we’ll cover the legal requirements that apply to email communications here in the UK and give references where required. Obviously we’re not lawyers, but the following will give you an overview of current requirements as at August 2011 – errors and omissions excepted!

If you require further information we recommend a visit to the Information Commissioner’s Office website.
Mandatory Requirements

The Companies Act 1985 requires all UK businesses (a private or public limited company, or a Limited Liability Partnership: sole traders or standard partnerships are excepted) list the following details in all business emails, as well as on your letterheads and order forms):

  • your company’s registered name, such as Bloggs Ltd.
  • your company registration number
  • your place of registration: England & Wales or Scotland
  • your registered office address

Emails must contain these details and not simply link to a section of a website with contact details. Trading Standards are responsible for any enforcement and the maximum fine for non-compliance is currently £1,000, with additional fine of up to £300 per day that may be imposed for any continuing breach.

Of course these requirements have applied to business letters for many years but this was clarified with regard to email communications on January 1st 2007 with an amendment to the Companies Act 1985 and now covered by the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008.

As an example, here at The Very Good Email Company we use the following footers in all email communications:

“The Very Good Email Company is a trading style of APM Internet Limited. APM Internet Limited is a limited company incorporated in England and Wales with registration number 04601087 and whose registered office is at First Floor, Radius House, 51 Clarendon Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, WD17 1HP, England.”

Where you have individual identities within a group of companies then individual emails should reflect the brand to which they relate. In these instances some staff dealing with multiple company names/brands should configure their email client to have multiple email templates/identities.
Email for Marketing Purposes

In addition to the elements required above, if you are sending bulk emails, such as newsletters, or product updates, you must include an opt out method within your email.

The following is from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website:

“The most important thing to remember is that you can only carry out unsolicited electronic marketing if the person you’re targeting has given you their permission.

However, there is an exception to this rule. Known as the ‘soft opt-in’ it applies if the following conditions are met;

  • where you’ve obtained a person’s details in the course of a sale or negotiations for a sale of a product or service;
  • where the messages are only marketing similar products or services; and
  • where the person is given a simple opportunity to refuse marketing when their details are collected, and if they don’t opt out at this point, are given a simple way to do so in future messages.

When you send an electronic marketing message, you must tell the recipient who you are and provide a valid contact address.

The rules on emails don’t apply to emails sent to organisations, though you must still identify yourself and provide an address.

The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and Fax Preference Service (FPS) are operated by the Direct Marketing Association, and allow people to register their numbers to opt out of receiving unsolicited calls or faxes. You must not market individuals or organisations who have registered their numbers with the TPS or FPS.

In summary, we recommend that your marketing campaigns are always permission-based and you explain clearly what a person’s details will be used for. Provide a simple way for them to opt out of marketing messages and have a system in place for dealing with complaints.”

The above is for advice only. If you need clarification on any of these areas you should seek qualified legal advice.