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Do I need a business licence in the UK?

3-minute read

Josh Hall

20 November 2018

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If you’re starting a new business, you might well be wondering whether or not you need a business licence.

Concerned about finding the right licence for your small business, or want to know how much a business licence costs? Read on for our simple guide.

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Business licences in the UK – do I need one?

Not all UK small businesses require a licence. In many cases you can trade without one, provided you're properly set up with HMRC and have chosen a legal structure for your business.

However, there's a wide range of business activities that do require a licence in the UK. One of the most prominent small business licences is, of course, the alcohol licence. Some individual activities may also require one-off licences, for example, street parties or other public events.

However, there are many other business types that may need a licence in order to trade. These include taxi companies, food outlets, hotels, pet shops, hairdressers, and hotels.

Childminding and nursery businesses must also be licenced, although the process for securing one is different, as we’ll explain later. You’ll also need a licence if you want to play recorded music in public, for example, in a shop.

If you’re carrying out certain financial activities, such as lending money or recovering debts, you’ll need to seek a licence from the Financial Conduct Authority. If you’re hoping to operate a business of this type, you should seek guidance directly from the FCA.

How to get a business licence in the UK

The first step is to work out what kind of licence your small business needs. The government website has a licence finder tool specifically for this task. If you’re seeking an alcohol licence, you'll also find detailed guidance on the government website.

Licences for small businesses in the UK are generally granted by individual local authorities. The licence finder linked above will help you find the correct point of contact to make your application. If you’re in any doubt, you should speak to your local authority directly.

There are, however, exceptions to this. For example, if you want to run a childminding business, you’ll need to apply for a licence from a specific government body:

  • Ofsted in England
  • Care Inspectorate in Scotland
  • Care and Social Services Inspectorate in Wales
  • Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland

Finally, if you’re looking for a licence to play recorded music in public you’ll need to speak to PPL PRS, who are the licensing body for music in the UK. Read more about getting this type of licence on the PPL PRS website.

What does a business licence cost?

The cost for a business licence will depend on the type of licence you're applying for. It may also be affected by other factors.

For example, premises licences for alcohol in England and Wales are subject to an application fee, but that fee is based on the rateable value of the venue you need a licence for.

Individual local authorities set the cost for licences they provide, and as such the cost can differ depending on where your business is based. Your local authority will publish a list of its licence costs on its website.

What about health and safety rules?

Regardless of whether or not you need a business licence, you'll still have to abide by health and safety rules and procedures. Every business has health and safety responsibilities, but the specific requirements may vary depending on the nature of your work and where it takes place.

For more information, read our simple guide to health and safety for small businesses.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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