Have you put off starting a business because you’re afraid of business rules, regulations and red tape? Are you wondering if you will need a licence for your business? Business licensing isn’t as complicated as you think. Here’s a quick guide to business licences.

Do you actually need a license for your business start-up?

First of all, the very good news. Unlike some countries, you don’t need a general business licence to start a business in the UK. Got an idea for a business… well you can just set up and start it without asking anyone for permission.

But… certain types of business or certain kinds of business activity do need a licence. Fortunately they don’t affect most small and home businesses very often, but here are a few pointers on businesses that often need a licence:

  • Businesses that sell alcohol, either on or off the premises. Your local council issues these licences.
  • Businesses that transport waste products. You’ll need a Waste Carrier’s Licence. This one comes from the Environment Agency.
  • Businesses that lend money to the general public. You’ll need a Consumer Credit Licence to do this. It’s available from the Office of Fair Trading.
  • Businesses that provide some kind of regulated entertainment – which covers putting on a play, a music gig, or putting on an indoor sporting event. This is controlled by your local council.
  • To run a security business. These are issued by the Security Industry Authority.
  • To run a taxi business. This is also a local council responsibility.
  • To operate a goods vehicle over 3,500kg in most cases, or a public service vehicle (like a bus or coach). These are dealt with by VOSA, the Vehicle & Operator Services Agency.
  • To operate and rent out a shared house (eg. a student house) in many cases. Again this is a local council responsibility.
  • To trade in the street, in some cases. You will need a Street Trader’s Licence from the local council. (This is not needed if you have a stall in an organised market by the way.)

There are a few other ones, for example a licence to sell petrol, run a caravan site, breed dogs, hire out boats or catch fish. But let’s be honest, not many small businesses are engaged in these kinds of activities.

What about planning permission?

Planning permission isn’t the same as business licensing. You might need planning permission to run your business from a certain location. If you’re thinking of running a shop for example the premises will need to have permission for the type of shop you want to run there.

If you’re thinking of running a business from home then you probably won’t need planning permission – just to do office work from home, or use a spare bedroom or garage for storage and so on. But anything more might need planning permission. Again, your local council are the people you need to ask about this.