Listings,items and the law

Listings,items and the law

This page is a brief introduction to the most important laws relating to the goods you intend to sell and the information you're legally obliged to give to people when you advertise those goods for sale (for example on eBay). As a business seller, amongst other things, you need to:

Please also refer to the guidance produced by the Office of Fair Trading regarding the issues you need to bear in mind when selling online: http://www.oft.gov.uk/advice_and_resources/small_businesses/distance-selling/ and in particular, the Office of Fair Trading Distance Selling Hub: http://www.oft.gov.uk/business-advice/treating-customers-fairly/dshome/

Note: this page is for informational purposes and only applies to sellers based in the UK (with the exception of a limited number of territories within the UK that are not part of the EU, such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands). If you're based outside the UK, different rules are likely to apply. This page is not intended to be legal advice. If you're unclear about how any of these laws apply to you, please seek advice from your local Trading Standards, a lawyer or similar professional.

Are you a "business seller"?

You should register as an eBay business if you:

  • sell items that you have bought to resell
  • make items yourself and sell them, intending to make a profit
  • are a Trading Assistant
  • buy items for your business

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 came into force on 26th May 2008. The Regulations introduce a general duty not to trade unfairly and seek to ensure that traders act honestly and fairly towards their customers. It is a criminal offence in the UK for a business to falsely claim or create the impression that it is not acting for purposes relating to its trade, business, craft or profession or to falsely represent itself as a consumer. So if you are misleading potential buyers into thinking that you are a private individual when you are in fact a business seller (ie: by not registering as a business seller with eBay), you will be breaking the law.

Find out more about why you should register as a business.

Ensure your goods are of satisfactory quality, as described and fit for purpose - Sale of Goods Legislation

The most important piece of legislation in the UK relating to the sale of goods through eBay is the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended).

The act provides that wherever goods are bought they must "conform to contract". This means that items sold by eBay by business sellers to non-business consumers must be:

  • of 'satisfactory quality';
  • 'as described'; and
  • 'fit for purpose'.

Therefore, goods sold by business sellers must not be inherently faulty at the time of sale, must match any description given to them and, allowing for factors like price, they must be fit for their purpose, defect free, safe and durable.

When considering whether goods are "fit for purpose", it's not only the obvious purpose of the goods that will be applicable. If you told the buyer that the goods will be suitable for a specific purpose (for example, "is suitable for wet conditions"), this purpose will also be relevant.

The Sale of Goods Act applies to both new and used items. It is worth bearing in mind that second-hand goods are likely to be judged less rigorously than new goods as it's not reasonable to expect that used goods will be of the same quality as new goods. In any event, sellers of second-hand goods are obliged to ensure that the goods they sell are as they described them.

For more information on your responsibilities under this law, we recommend that you visit Business Link's guide to the Sale of Goods Act, as well as the fact sheet produced by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).

Include information about your business in your listings – Electronic Commerce Regulations and Distance Selling Regulations

Under the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 you must provide the following information in the Business Seller Information section of your listings, your About Me page or on a Shops page no more than one click from your main Shop page:

  • full contact details for your business, including company name, geographical address and email address;
  • details of any relevant trade organisations to which you belong;
  • details of any authorisation scheme relevant to your online business;
  • clear indications of price, if relevant, including any delivery or tax charges and
  • your VAT number, if your online activities are subject to VAT.

For further information we recommend that you browse the BIS website, particularly the Beginners Guide to the E-Commerce Regulations 2002.

What if I use the same account for business and private selling?

We recommend that you use one account for business selling (registered as a business account) and one account for private selling (registered as a private account). This has the added benefit of making it easy for you to report your business activities and expenses to the tax authorities, should you find you need to do this. See more information on Tax.

Make sure your listings are not misleading - The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which replaced the Trade Descriptions Act May 2008, implements the EU's Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and prohibits businesses from treating consumers unfairly. It obliges businesses not to use:

  • aggressive practices (such as pressure selling); or
  • misleading practices (includes both acts and omissions).

One of the key tests in the regulation is whether the unfair commercial practice in question materially distorts the consumer's economic behaviour (e.g. was the consumer persuaded to make a purchase they would not otherwise have made because of the commercial practice?)

A breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 is, in most cases, a criminal offence. Find out more from BIS about the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.

Include the correct pricing information – The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008

As explained above, these regulations prohibit business sellers from engaging in unfair commercial practices which harm consumers' economic interests. The provision of information about prices is one form of commercial practice.

In particular, the regulations prohibit:

  • businesses from misleading consumers about the price of a product, or the manner in which the price is calculated;
  • business from misleading consumers as to the existence of a specific price advantage; and
  • the omission, in any case of an invitation to purchase, of information on the price or any related charges including taxes, delivery and postal charges, unless these are already apparent from the context.

BIS has produced a helpful guidance for businesses on good practice in giving information about prices.