Newsagent legal issues

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The laws that you need to be aware of will depend very much on the nature of your proposed business. As well as the consumer and fair trading laws that apply to almost all retailers, you may also find that specific rules apply to particular products that you sell. The following is an outline of some of the areas which may be relevant to you.

What licences does a newsagent need?

Depending on what you sell there may be a number of licences and/or requirements to register that apply to your business.

Registering as a food business

If - as is quite likely - your business will store, sell, or prepare food you will need to register with your local environmental health department. They will inspect your premises and help you to comply with the requirements of food safety laws. Contact your local authority early on in your planning so that you register in good time. There is no charge for registering.

Alcohol licensing

In England and Wales, licensing laws regulate the sale of alcohol and the supply of hot food between the hours of 11pm and 5am. A premises licence is required for any premises where these activities will take place (although in some cases late night refreshment may be exempt from the licensing requirement), and a personal licence is required by anyone who wants to sell alcohol from premises which have a premises licence. The website contains more information on alcohol and late night refreshment licensing.

In Northern Ireland, alcohol licences are granted by the county court. There is a set number of off-licences in Northern Ireland and new licences for alcohol off-sales are not currently granted. So you'll usually need to find someone who's giving up or selling their licence. You can read more about alcohol licensing in Northern Ireland on the NI Direct website.

In Scotland, alcohol licences are granted by local Licensing Boards under a system of personal and premises licences similar to that in England and Wales. You can read more about alcohol licensing in Scotland on the Scottish Government website.

Mandatory licensing conditions require alcohol retailers to have an age verification policy in place to prevent sales of alcohol to underage customers.

Selling tobacco

If your business is in Scotland and you sell tobacco and nicotine vapour products, you need to be registered with the Scottish Tobacco Retailers Register. Registration is free of charge. You can find out more from the Scottish Tobacco Retailers Register website. A similar requirement applies in Northern Ireland, where registration is with Belfast City Council. You can register online at Tobacco Register NI.

All retailers selling tobacco products need to get an Economic Operator Identifier Code and a Facility Identifier Code.

Selling fireworks

If you plan to sell fireworks you must register with your local trading standards department or fire authority (depending on your location) in Great Britain or with the Northern Ireland Office in Northern Ireland. If you intend to sell fireworks in Great Britain outside the usual fireworks periods - Guy Fawkes night, Diwali, New Year and Chinese New Year - then you'll need a fireworks sales licence. You can find out more about firework licensing in the UK on the RoSPA Safer fireworks website.

Other matters

If you're going to play background music in the store you will need to obtain a Music Licence from PPL PRS Ltd. There is an annual fee for this which you can pay online on the PPL PRS website.

You might be thinking of employing young people - for example for a newspaper round. Remember that you'll probably have to apply for an employment permit from your local authority (some local authorities don't require it). This applies to children aged between 13 and 16. (You are not allowed to employ children under the age of 13.)

Age-restricted products

You must not sell:

  • tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) to young people under 18
  • fireworks to young people under 18 (category one fireworks like party poppers can be sold to people aged 16 and over)
  • Christmas crackers to children under 12
  • an intoxicating substance to people under 18 if you suspect the fumes will be inhaled for intoxification
  • cigarette lighter gas refills to people under 18
  • Lottery tickets to young people under 16
  • knives/blades to young people under 18
  • or rent out DVDs or video games to anyone under the age specified on an age-restricted title
  • alcohol to young people under 18 - you must have an age verification policy in place to prevent sales of alcohol to underage customers

Cigarettes and tobacco products

If you sell any cigarettes or packets of hand-rolling tobacco you must make sure that they carry a UK duty paid fiscal mark. Cigarette packets must comply with new standardised packaging regulations. All packs must contain 20 cigarettes as it is no longer legal to sell packs of 10. You must not display any tobacco products and you can only show a customer your tobacco products if they are over 18 and have asked to buy a product. You must close the tobacco units as soon as you have finished serving your customer. All retailers selling tobacco products need to get an Economic Operator Identifier Code and a Facility Identifier Code.


There is a wide range of legislation that applies to retail outlets and that protects 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. More information about fair trading regulations is available on the Trading Standards Business Companion website.

Food safety

All businesses in the food sector must comply with strict food safety legislation. At least 28 days before you start selling food, you must register your business with the local authority environmental health department. Your local environmental health officer will be able to give you advice and guidance as to what you should install in your premises to make sure your operating areas are hygienic and how to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Act. Various helpful publications are available from the Food Standards Agency which provide guidance on important food safety regulations. These include the Safer Food Better Business pack and the publication Safe catering (Northern Ireland). Call the Food Standards Agency publications line on 0845 606 0678 or visit the Food Standards Agency website.

Food hygiene rating

Businesses selling food in Wales and Northern Ireland must display the food hygiene rating their business has been given.


Businesses are 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, waste lottery tickets or scratch cards, empty crisp or confectionery packets, ice cream and sandwich wrappers and so on. The local authority can issue Street Litter Control Notices to make businesses clear up litter if it becomes a problem.

Waste batteries

If your business sells more than 32 kg of portable batteries in a year you must offer to take back used batteries from customers to be recycled. You must provide this service free of charge. DEFRA has produced a calculator tool to help businesses work out whether they sell enough batteries each year to be affected by the new regulations. You can use a tool based on the DEFRA calculator on the Waste Support 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.

Don't forget that local authority bye-laws regulate the employment of young people who are still of compulsory school age. Any young people employed to deliver newspapers must be registered with the local authority and individual employment permits obtained. The local authority (usually the education department) should be contacted for the compulsory registration forms and details of applicable local bye-laws. These restrict times and the number of hours that young people can work and require that they are over 13 years old.

Those using a bicycle for the paper round should possess a cycling proficiency certificate.

Insurance for a newsagent

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:

  • premises, premises contents and stock
  • goods in transit (for example on the way back from a cash and carry)
  • freezer breakdown
  • cash and Lottery scratch cards
  • business interruption
  • employers liability (make sure your newspaper deliverers are covered)
  • public liability
  • motor insurance (for delivery vehicles)

It's worth noting that the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) offers members preferential rates on insurance policies through The Retail Mutual. This might save you money and provide the level of cover you need.

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

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