Mobile takeaway legal issues

The following is an overview of some of the key areas where legislation may apply to your mobile catering business. It is not intended to be comprehensive.

What licences does a mobile takeaway need?

As you will be serving food from your outlet (a van or trailer is classed as an outlet), you will need to register as a food business with your local authority environmental health department. Contact your local authority for details. They will inspect your premises and/or van and help you to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Act and other food hygiene legislation. There is no charge for registering.

Takeaways in England and Wales that provide hot food or drink between the hours of 11pm and 5am must normally obtain a late night refreshment licence from the local authority (an exemption from licensing may apply in some cases). A late hours catering licence is required in Scotland.

Your local authority will probably require you to buy a street trader's licence unless you do all your selling at privately owned venues. This can cost several hundred pounds or more each year. Local authorities vary considerably in their stance towards mobile vendors - the only way to be sure (and to avoid the possibility of being fined for trading without a licence) is to check with your local authority environmental health department. It is a good idea to find out the exact cost of a licence if required and to do so early on in your business planning to avoid any nasty surprises later on. If there is currently no licensing requirement, try to find out whether there are any plans to introduce licensing in the near future - if necessary, allow for this expenditure in your cash-flow projection.

Find out too about any licensing conditions, rules and restrictions imposed by the council.

Remember that you will need to obtain permission to trade at shows and events, and to sell at private sites such as garden and DIY centres, caravan sites and so on. In each case you will need to contact the site owner or event organiser. You will almost certainly have to pay them a fee. This might be a fixed sum or a percentage of your daily takings, but it may be negotiable.

Local authority street trading regulations

Most local authorities have rules and regulations for street traders like mobile catering vans. These often include things like 'no-go' zones. It's always best to check the position with your local council at an early stage in your business planning to avoid any unwelcome surprises.

Your catering vehicle or trailer

Your vehicle or trailer must comply with health and hygiene regulations and while most new ones do, some second hand ones may not. The vehicle should be inspected by your local authority's environmental health office and should be equipped with:

  • wash basins
  • hot and cold water with satisfactory arrangements for waste water
  • a fire extinguisher
  • a first aid kit
  • protective clothing

It must also have adequate hand washing sundries like soap, cleaning and anti-bacterial products, and towels as well as covers for food containers.

If gas bottles are used to power cooking ranges and other appliances they must be stored in a ventilated locker that is separate from the main catering unit.

Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act

This legislation makes businesses responsible for clearing up any litter around their site that has originated from their retail activities. For example, this would include take-away food or drink packaging, empty crisp or confectionery packets and so on.Food hygiene

All people that handle food in the course of their business must have attended an appropriate food hygiene training course. The Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) offers a number of suitable food hygiene training courses, as do a number of other organisations and local colleges. Health inspectors can visit you at any time and they will check that you are complying with food hygiene regulations and the overall standard of your catering unit. There is other food safety legislation that you need to be aware of.

London Low Emission Zone (LEZ)

There are special rules for larger vehicles driving in central London to reduce the amount of air pollution. Very old vans that don't meet the emissions standards incur a charge of £100 a day to drive within the zone if they have not been modified with an approved filter. There's more information on the Transport for London (TfL) website.

Consumer protection

Consumer protection and fair trading regulations require you to be fair and honest in your dealings with customers. For example, it is illegal to claim on your menu that your burgers are '100% beef' when in fact they have a low meat content. Your local authority trading standards department will be able to give you advice on any specific queries you have about consumer protection legislation. There is also information for businesses available on the Trading Standards Business Companion and Gov.uk websites.

Asylum and immigration legislation

Controls on illegal immigration into the UK mean that it is a criminal offence for any business knowingly to employ a person who is not entitled to live or work in the UK. Any employers who do so face an unlimited fine and/or imprisonment. Employers must check employees' documents to ensure they're valid. More information on preventing illegal working is available on the Gov.uk 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 a mobile takeaway

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 and product liability, including food poisoning cover
  • special insurance for your vehicle and/or trailer and its contents
  • premises and stock - you should advise your household insurer if you intend to use part of your home as a base for the business, for example storing large amounts of stock in your garage
  • cash
  • business interruption

Membership of the Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) gives you access to business insurance packages tailored specifically for mobile and static caterers. There is more information on the NCASS website.

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

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