Many people will be aware of the problems of obtaining accurate information on the internet. As a law firm we frequently receive communications from individuals telling us what the law on a particular matter is. Often this is based on poorly written commentary or, more amusingly, on the law in other parts of the world.
For agents this is a particularly important issue as property advertising on the internet continues to grow. The risks of misrepresentation and misdescription (which for estate agents is prosecutable under the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991) are growing and the modern phenomena for sites taking automatic data feeds from agents own software means that small (and otherwise inconsequential errors) can rapidly be magnified into major problems.
However there is some good news. A recent case in the Court of Appeal dealt with the liability of a company for incorrect information appearing on its website. In Patchett v SPATA the Court of Appeal held that the Defendant was not liable for a misleading representation on its website in relation to the quality of third party contractors. This was primarily because the website “urged independent enquiry”. The website made reference to other documents supplied by the Defendant and set out a series of enquiries that should be made before relying on the contractors mentioned on the site.
Agents would be well advised to take this on board by making clear on their websites that further details of properties are available and should be sought before reaching a decision on rental or purchase.
However, agents should also take care of the details appearing on their websites and on other internet portals and should make sure they have a proper procedure in place to review this information and check its accuracy on a daily basis. Not only will this help avoid mistakes but it will also provide a defence against any threatened prosecution under the Property Misdescriptions Act.