In a highly competitive market, construction plant hire companies are increasing their online plant hire activity to generate profits. However, online activity gives rise to a new set of problems for businesses to overcome.

Terms and conditions of supply must be incorporated

As in any contract, terms and conditions will only be incorporated into the contract (and hence legally binding) if brought to the other party’s attention pre-contract.

Terms and conditions can be incorporated by reference to a hyperlink on a separate web page, which display the terms and conditions. However, this can be a burden on the user and is also prone to error. If the link fails, then the terms may not be incorporated into the contract.

It is possible to require customers to scroll through the terms prior to placing their order. This is the best way of ensuring incorporation. However, it can be perceived as too difficult for customers and may hinder your online activity.

The third, and best option, is to have a separate scroll-down window on the webpage, which provides for a tick box acceptance of those terms.

Avoid liability to users of the website

Website owners should have terms and conditions governing the access to and use of their website. These can be used to limit liability to website visitors (separate supply conditions will cover liability relating to goods/services supplied through the website). They can also be used to cover such matters as unauthorised copying of material on the website.

Like supply terms, they must be brought to the attention of visitors and, at the very least, there should be a prominent notice on the homepage referring visitors to the terms of use.

The need to provide information

Under regulations governing e-commerce and distance selling, operators of websites are required to provide certain information to users of their service. This includes the name of the supplier and its geographical and email address.

If a supplier is a company it must, amongst other things provide its registered number, office name and VAT number.

As ever, when dealing with consumers the requirements are more stringent. There are requirements relating to how the information is provided, as well as statutory cancellation rights.

Avoid falling foul of data protection law

If a website collects personal data about visitors (most do), the website owner must comply with data protection legislation.

Before collecting personal data, most website owners need to notify the Information Commissioner’s Office of their proposed processing activities. Website owners must also take adequate technical measures to ensure the security of all personal data.

Certain obligations to data subjects should be dealt with by way of a website privacy policy, which must be brought to the visitor’s attention.

Ways to incorporate terms and conditions

  • Insert a hyperlink to a separate page displaying the terms.
  • Require customers to scroll through terms before being allowed to place an order.
  • Require customers to click on an icon indicating acceptance.