The issue of whether you need to disclose your home address on your website causes people a great deal of consternation.
There are often very good reasons why, particularly as small businesses and particularly if you're a woman, you don't want your home address to be on your website.
So, do we legally need to add our home addresses to our websites?
Unfortunately, there isn't just one law on this. There are a number of laws that cover this question.
Carrying on E-Commerce
The first thing to note is that, if you're carrying on e-commerce (selling goods via the internet), whether as a limited company or a sole trader, then you have to display a “geographic address at which the service provider is established”.
Okay, you may be thinking “could that be a virtual office with a mail forwarding service”? The answer is…. it's not entirely clear. The regulations only state that you need to provide a geographical address at which the service provider is established.
If you are trading through a limited company (and therefore have a registered office), your registered office may be registered at, say, your accountants or a service company that deals with mail forwarding and provision of registered office address, then there's a good argument to say that this would be a “geographic address at which the service provider is established”.
But what if you are a sole trader? Would a PO Box suffice or the address of your accountant? Unfortunately, the position is not clear, but read on for the likely consequences of not including your home address on your website if you’re carrying on e-commerce.
If you are trading through a limited company, regardless of whether you are carrying on e-commerce, you need to disclose your registered office address on your website. There is not a similar requirement for sole traders or partnerships.
If you're providing a service, regardless of whether you are trading through a limited company or you are a sole trader / partnership, you must make available to recipients of that service your postal address (and, if you're a limited company, your registered office address).
Now, these particular regulations about providing services only require that you provide your postal address to the recipient of the service, so this could be done on an individual basis without disclosing your address publicly on your website but if you are selling one to many online, then your postal address may, for practicality reasons, need to be included in your terms of business, that in theory anyone clicking through to a sales page and then reading the terms of business could see.
These regulations talk about a postal address (rather than a “geographic address” as per the regulations relating to carrying on e-commerce, as set out above) and whether a postal address could mean a service address, where there is mail forwarding, is not entirely clear.
Then the final thing to think about is, if you're dealing with consumers and you're entering into consumer contracts, and entering into a contract online, then you need to display the geographical address at which the trader, (i.e. you), is established. So, again, this is a reference to “geographical address”, and my comments that I made above in relation to e-commerce as to whether this would need to be a home address for a sole trader equally apply here.
So in summary, if you're a sole trader and you're not carrying on e-commerce, and you're not contracting online in any way, then you don't legally need to have your home address on your website. That's the good news
If you're a sole trader and you are carrying on e-commerce, then there's a bit of a grey area as to whether the “geographic address at which the service provider is established”, could include a service office or not.
Now, that's the letter of the law. However, what are the risks of anything happening to you if you fail to put your home address on your website? I'd say they're exceptionally low. The risk of this being in any way investigated by authorities will in all likelihood depend on complaints being made by customers who can’t contact you. So if you look after your customers and provide alternative ways for them to contact you and you are responsive (eg by email or a service office address), then you are unlikely to have any complaints about this.
I have never heard of any case of adverse consequences for any small business owner who hasn't put their home address on their website. And I think, certainly, if you had a good reason not to do so, because you were concerned about your security, then I personally would likely make the decision to not disclose my home address for all to see on my website but would instead use a service office.
So, obviously, as a lawyer, I'm never the one to say don't comply with the letter of the law (and saying that, the letter of the law in this regard is unclear about what a geographical address actually means…), but if you are concerned about your security, then it’s a risk analysis for you to make and if you decide not to disclose your home address on your website because you are concerned about your security, then that in my view would be a reasonable decision for you to make.