Antique dealer legal issues

Woman holding vase in antique shop with antique items in background

The following is an outline of some of the areas which may be relevant to your antiques business.

What licences does an antiques dealer need?

Local authorities in Scotland require second-hand dealers - including antique dealers - to obtain a licence or registration to operate. Elsewhere in the UK, some local authorities license or register businesses where second-hand dealing is the main or a significant part of the business and is not just incidental, although certain specific exemptions generally apply (for example jewellers). Businesses which hold consumer credit authorisation are normally also exempt. If you are in any doubt as to whether second-hand dealer licensing may apply to your business, contact your local authority trading standards department for guidance.

Export controls require an export licence to be obtained for cultural objects like antiques over certain age and value limits if they are to be exported from the UK. Full details are available from the Arts Council Export Licensing Unit. The Arts Council provides several guidance publications for exporters - you can find out more and download publications from the Arts Council website. There's also useful information about export licensing available from the Cultural Property Advice section of the Collections Trust website.

The Money Laundering Regulations apply to 'high value dealers', including antique dealers, who make payments of or accept the equivalent of 10,000 euros in cash for any single transaction. If you handle transactions of this size you must register with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and put in place anti-money laundering systems.

If you plan to import or export certain restricted goods made from endangered species of plants or animals then you'll need a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) licence. You can read about CITES licences on the website.

Be aware too that there are licensing issues relating to dealing in and exporting antique and historic firearms and weapons. Home Office guidance on firearms law, including information about antique firearms, is available on the website.

Dealing in antiques

The Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act makes it illegal to deal knowingly in any object that might be 'tainted' - that is to say obtained in an illegal manner. Dealers are expected to take appropriate steps to make sure that any object they purchase is not tainted in this way. Of course, it goes without saying that normal criminal law applies when it comes to receiving and selling stolen goods, passing items off fraudulently and so on. More information is available on the Collections Trust website.

Dealing in fine art

Under artist's resale rights laws known as droit de suite, certain fine art transactions attract a levy which must be paid to a special collecting society. Levies raised are passed on to the original creator of the work or their estate. It is the art dealer's responsibility to make sure that the levy is paid whenever it's due. More information is available on the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) website.

Selling general insurance

Anyone who sells, advises on, arranges or assists in selling general insurance may need to be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) even if insurance is only a small part of their business. Businesses affected by this legislation must be either directly regulated by the FCA or an appointed representative of an FCA regulated insurer. Contact the FCA for further information.

Money laundering

The Money Laundering Regulations apply to High Value Dealers, including antique dealers, which make payments of or accept the equivalent of 10,000 euros in cash for any single transaction. If you handle transactions of this size you must register with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and put in place anti-money laundering systems.


There is a wide range of legislation that applies to retailers to protect the interests of the consumer. For example, goods and services must not be misleadingly described and the retail price of goods must be clearly displayed. Customers must be treated fairly and honestly. Special distance selling rules apply to businesses that sell goods online.

You will be responsible for making sure that all goods are fit for their intended purpose and of satisfactory quality. Be particularly careful when it comes to selling second-hand electrical items like antique lights - these must be safe to use. According to Trading Standards:

"If you sell second-hand electrical goods which are unsafe or incorrectly labelled, and you haven't taken reasonable precautions to avoid this, you may be prosecuted. Taking reasonable precautions means you must take positive steps to ensure that you comply with the law. This will mean, in most cases, having the goods checked by a qualified electrician."

You can get more information about consumer protection legislation from your local Trading Standards department. There's detailed guidance on your legal obligations to consumers, and on the requirements when selling online, on the Trading Standards Business Companion website. Useful information is also available on the website.

Disposal of waste and control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH)

If you undertake processes on the premises such as stripping furniture, or carry out repairs or restoration work, you are likely to be using substances such as paint strippers, glue, varnishes and so on which may be hazardous to health. You will have to comply with regulations covering the use, storage and disposal of these substances. Information about protecting yourself, your workers and others is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). More information about disposing of hazardous and other wastes is available on the website.

Health & Safety, fire

You must comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Insurance for an antiques dealer

Contact an insurer or insurance broker and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • employer's liability
  • public liability
  • premises, premises contents and stock, including accidental damage
  • goods in transit (on the way back from auction, going to trade fairs and so on)
  • goods in trust - for example items which you are selling on someone's behalf, or which you are restoring
  • defective title
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • business motor insurance

From time to time you may need to increase your level of insurance cover if you have something particularly valuable in stock.

Both BADA and LAPADA can provide details to their members of insurers who understand and work with the antiques trade.

Full accredited members of the British Antique Furniture Restorers' Association (BAFRA) benefit from access to favourable insurance terms, and discounted premiums are available to LAPADA members.

When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form.

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