Book shop legal issues

Man and woman looking at the cover of book in bookshop

The following is an outline of some of the key pieces of legislation that you should be aware of.

What licences does a book shop need?

Book shops are not specifically licensed, so you may not need to do anything further in respect of licensing matters.

Selling secondhand books

You may intend to sell second-hand books, either as well as or instead of new titles. Local authorities in Scotland require second-hand dealers to obtain a licence or registration to operate. This applies unless dealing in second-hand goods is only incidental to the main business activity. Elsewhere in the UK, some local authorities license or register businesses (with some specific exemptions) where second-hand dealing is the main or a significant part of the business and is not just incidental. 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.

Selling food and drink

If you intend to open a coffee shop or cafe within your outlet then you'll need to register as a food business with your local authority environmental health department. They will inspect your premises to make sure that they comply with food safety and hygiene legislation. There's no charge for registering. Contact your local authority environmental health service for more information.

Data protection

If you keep computerised records of individuals' personal details you may need to register with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), although there are exemptions covering information used only for staff administration or for the business's own marketing purposes (exempt organisations must nevertheless ensure that they comply at all times with data protection legislation). There is a small fee for registering. More information about who needs to register is available on the ICO website.


There is a wide range of legislation that applies to retail outlets, much of which protects the interests of the consumer. For example, 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. There is special additional consumer protection legislation that applies if you sell things by mail order or online.

There's detailed guidance on your legal obligations to consumers, and on the requirements when selling online, on the Trading Standards Business Companion website. More information about consumer protection legislation is also available on the website. Your local trading standards department should also be able to advise you if you have a specific query.

Food hygiene

If your outlet includes a cafe area or serves food and drink to customers then food hygiene and safety legislation will apply. You can find out more about all aspects of food safety legislation on the Food Standards Agency website.

Finding out more

The Booksellers Association provides help and support for its members on a range of legal issues. It offers members a free business support helpline to give information on matters such as employment and health and safety law. More information about legislation that affects the book selling industry is also available on the Booksellers Association website.

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 a book 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 (if you employ staff)
  • public liability
  • premises, premises contents and stock
  • plate glass window cover
  • cover for computer systems and data
  • motor insurance (for any business vehicles, for example a van)
  • cash and book tokens
  • business interruption
  • key-man insurance

Insurance quotes can vary considerably and you should obtain several quotes for comparison purposes. Make sure though that you are comparing like with like - read the policy notes to check that each quote is for the same level of cover.

The Booksellers Association offers access to tailored business insurance at special rates to members through their nominated insurer. More information about this and other membership benefits is available on the Booksellers Association website.

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

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.