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Almost all home maintenance websites do not comply with the law

Posted 22/12/23

CTSI launches new Online Audit to clean up E-commerce.

A new national Trading Standards audit of websites for businesses offering renovation and repair work, such as plumbers and electricians has found that the vast majority break the law. 

  • 97% of the 184 websites did not comply with consumer protection legislation applicable to websites.
  • 85% of websites did not comply with three or more laws
  • 14% failed to comply with six or more laws.

CTSI is concerned that this lack of basic information, such as contact details may make it much harder for consumers to seek redress or get a refund if things go wrong. The audit also found websites failing to display a company registration number, which provides consumers with uncertainty around the legitimacy of a company’s website, this is even more important given the issues around copycat and scam websites.

This year, the project focussed on the Home Maintenance Sector, which included websites for; electricians, general builders, plumbers, window companies and gardeners. This was in recognition of the continuing complaints Trading Standards receive about work carried out that is to a poor standard, unnecessary or with excessive prices. 

CTSI E-commerce Lead Officer, Paul Miloseski-Reid, said: “Many businesses omitted basic information from their website, like the registered company name and address. This is critical to enable consumers to verify a business is legitimate. Most also failed to mention whether or not cancellation rights existed. Such omissions will turn consumers away, affecting their reputation and business profits. Together....by 2033, let's make online compliance jump from 3% to 33%.”

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has been conscious of the significant non-compliance online by businesses small and large for many years. Therefore, CTSI supports this initiative to carry out an annual nationwide website audit to support the profession in tackling the high levels of non-compliance on online platforms. Our hope is for as many Trading Standards Services as possible to participate in this project each year. The sector audited will change annually, and this will be determined by complaints received.

CTSI Chief Executive, John Herriman, said: “Globally, the percentage of retail sales being carried out online has continued to grow the past 10 years and is expected to continue. It is important that consumers feel as confident buying online as they do offline, and regulation plays a critical role in ensuring this. We would encourage consumers to use services from business that are part of the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme or other assured trader schemes, which provide assurances that businesses who are members of the schemes adhere to robust standards and always put consumer protection at the forefront of all they do.” 

“By launching this national annual website audit our ambition is that over the next decade compliance online will increase dramatically.”

Similar results are seen with Age Restricted Products. Compliance online has ranged from 10% - 25%, whereas offline compliance is generally above 85%. This is due to Trading Standards, the Police and Industry focussing resources on test purchasing exercises offline. 

These results have been mirrored outside of the UK. In a coordinated web sweep, across the 743 EU, Icelandic, and Norwegian websites, 63% of websites were not compliant with new legislation. Non-compliance is perhaps understandable in the first few years of legislation being implemented. However, numerous websites, including some large national businesses, failed to provide information about the consumer's cancellation rights despite this being a legal requirement for 16 years.

Online regulation is vital in the UK because: 

  • large numbers of consumers are affected as the UK is the world's most developed online retail market with 85% of adults buying online
  • 26.5% of retail sales in the UK were generated online, compared with around 10% for Italy and Spain. The UK makes up 30% of European online sales and the value of online retail sales in the UK from 2012 to 2022 trebled 
  • the majority of businesses do not comply with the requirements to make a variety of information easily accessible on their website. This high level of non-compliance has existed for over a decade and has shown little signs of improving
  • the pandemic forced many SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to move their business online for the first time. During the coronavirus pandemic, when the Government restricted the way businesses could open their physical stores, internet retail sales grew by 47%, the fastest rate recorded in the previous ten years. Many of these businesses began trading online for the first time and likely lacked the knowledge of e-commerce laws, increasing the likelihood of non-compliance.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI)
• The Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is a national not for profit established in 1881 which supports the UK’s trading standards profession and works to protect consumers and safeguard honest businesses. CTSI's members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services at local authorities and in businesses. www.tradingstandards.uk 

Please contact CTSI Press Office: pressoffice@tsi.org.uk for any queries.

Find out more about the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme on the CTSI Website.

Additional data:

‘Offline compliance is generally above 85%’ claim based upon covert test purchase visits by three London Borough trading standards services during a 3-year period.  This in line with a significant rise in compliance the past 15 years. In the high street, the number of retailers asking for proof of age: 55% in 2007; 71% in 2010 (Serve Legal report, cited by BBC 13 June 2012); 79% in 2011 (Serve Legal – the ‘test purchasing’ company - carried out 33,400 off-trade visits in 2011 with a pass rate of 79%). Pass rates were 81% for the first half of 2012  

‘Compliance online has ranged from 10% - 25%’ claim based upon: 

  • 75% of online retailers supplied age-restricted products, including knives and a machete, to a 13-year-old child.  Brent and Harrow Trading Standards Service
  • 90% of traders investigated by the Welsh Heads of Trading Standards supplied violent games to youngsters. 
  • 58 out of 72 sites tested would sell to individuals under 18.

Various stats showing compliance levels in UK or EU

EU 2017-22 websweeps

  • 2011 - 52% of sites selling digital games and books contravened consumer law 
  • 2011 - 72% of distance sellers did not know the "cooling-off" period for distance sales in their own country
  • In 2016, 32% of 300 prices for car hire extras weren’t being presented clearly online at the time of booking despite the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) taking action to tackle this problem in July 2015 when Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt committed to improve transparency for consumers making website bookings and reservations.
  • 24% of 220 websites in 2013 do not provide an email address
  • 57% of 305 online retailers did not reimburse delivery costs
  • 13% of 262 price comparison websites did not provide any business details while in 40% of the cases these were partially provided.


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