Art shop legal issues

Woman sitting down painting on canvas with paint brushes in foreground

The following is an overview of some of the main pieces of legislation that may be particularly relevant to your art supplies business.

What licences does an art shop need?

There are no licensing requirements relating specifically to art shops but you may need to be aware of the following:

  • if background music is played in the shop you will normally need a Music Licence from PPL PRS Ltd for the public performance of copyright music
  • if credit facilities are offered to consumers (for example to spread the cost of a large purchase) you will need consumer credit authorisation from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
  • you may need a permit from your local authority to put an 'A-board' type sign on the pavement

Sales of intoxicating substances (like glues and solvents) and dangerous weapons (like scalpels, knives and blades)

You cannot sell knives - including craft knives - or blades to people under 18 years of age. Similarly it is an offence to supply a substance like thinners to a person under the age of 18 if you suspect that he or she is going to inhale the fumes for the purpose of causing intoxication. It is your responsibility to satisfy yourself that the person is not underage - or in the case of products like thinners is going to use them for their intended purpose.


There is a wide range of legislation that applies to retail outlets 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. You will be responsible for making sure that all goods or services are fit for their intended purpose and of satisfactory quality.

Information for businesses on consumer protection legislation is available on the Business Companion website. You can also get advice on specific points from your local trading standards department.

Substances that could be used to make explosives

There are special regulations in place to prevent substances that could potentially be used to make explosives getting into the wrong hands. Some substances, which would normally only be available from specialist suppliers, are regulated and can only be supplied to a member of the public who has a licence to obtain and possess them. Other substances, although not regulated, are nevertheless of potential concern. Examples of these, which are referred to as 'reportable substances', include the solvent acetone and some acidic etching agents.

You should report any suspicious transactions (or disappearances due to theft) involving regulated or reportable substances to the police Anti-terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321. A transaction could be suspicious for various reasons, for example because the customer insists on paying cash and/or wants an unusually large quantity of a product containing a reportable substance.

There's more information for businesses about regulated and reportable substances on the website.

Storage, sale and disposal of potentially hazardous substances

Specific regulations cover the use, storage and sale of substances such as turpentine. If you offer services such as picture cleaning or restoration you may be using various chemicals which you have a duty to dispose of safely - for example, by using an authorised waste carrier. The COSHH Essentials website is a good starting point for finding out more about working with potentially hazardous substances.

Use of equipment and tools

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations cover the use and maintenance of hand and power tools so that they are used in conditions that are as safe as possible, for example during activities such as picture framing or canvas stretching. You might also need to provide your employees with protective clothing if they carry out many workshop tasks involving substances such as glues and varnishes, or if they create a lot of dust.

Finding out more

The Fine Art Trade Guild provides a free legal advice helpline for members, giving professional advice on consumer and employment law, tax, VAT and other legal matters.

Carrier bag charge

A 5 pence charge applies in England, but small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees) are exempt. You can get detailed guidance from the website.

Retailers in Wales and Scotland must charge customers at least 5 pence if they supply them with a single-use carrier bag. This applies to all types of single-use bag, whether they are made of plastic, paper or plant-based starch. There is detailed guidance on the Gov.Wales and Zero Waste Scotland websites.

In Northern Ireland retailers must charge customers a 5 pence levy on all bags with a retail price of less than 20 pence (including any bags that would otherwise be free of charge), whether they are single-use or reusable.

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 art shop

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
  • product liability
  • premises, premises contents and stock
  • goods in transit (being collected or delivered)
  • goods held in trust (customers' paintings being cleaned/restored, artists' work sold on a commission basis)
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • motor insurance (for delivery vehicles)

It's worth noting that some trade associations and buying groups offer their members special insurance policies, which might save you money and provide the level of cover you need. For example the Fine Art Trade Guild has negotiated special discounted rates on tailored business insurance cover for members.

The British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) also offers bespoke retail business insurance services to its members.

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

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