Painter legal issues

Young painter in a high-visibility vest painting a set of windows

Along with general health and safety legislation - particularly rules covering protective equipment and working at height - there are two pieces of legislation that may be particularly relevant to you as a painter and decorator. These are:

  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, which apply to the use of any potentially hazardous substances such as paint, varnish, wood preservatives and glues
  • The Environmental Protection Act and regulations made under it (particularly the controlled waste and hazardous waste regulations), along with other waste regulations, which cover pollution prevention and the disposal of waste chemicals including paints, varnish, glues and so on

Your local environmental health department will be able to advise you on how the above legislation affects your business. Information is also available on the HSE COSHH Essentials website.

What licences does a painter need?

There are no specific licences that you will need as a painter and decorator, so if your business activities are going to fall within the usual range of services offered by this type of business you may not need to do anything further.

Waste carriers

If you are going to carry away waste that you have generated in the course of a job (and that isn't building waste) you'll need to register as a 'lower tier' waste carrier (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or a professional collector or transporter of waste (Scotland). Registration is free of charge and lasts indefinitely. If you think that you will transport building waste, you will need a certificate of registration as an 'upper tier' waste carrier (or just waste carrier in Scotland). Waste registration is dealt with by the Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland. Upper tier registration currently costs about £155 for the initial registration fee and a further renewal fee of about £105 every three years (a bit higher in Scotland, a bit lower in Northern Ireland). Note that a single licence is issued to your business covering all of your waste transporting vehicles.

Other licences

Skips placed on a public highway require a Skip Permit from the local authority. Certain conditions may be attached to the licence. Normally the skip hire company will arrange the necessary licences, but it is worth making certain of this.

Before erecting a scaffold on or over a public highway, you are obliged by law to obtain a permit from your local highways authority. Some local authorities also require you to obtain a scaffolding permit before putting up a scaffold in a public place. If you use a specialist scaffolder, they will often take responsibility for arranging any scaffolding permits needed. For more information, contact your local authority planning department or environmental health department.


If you intend to do any work involving asbestos (this might include applying stabilising coatings to old asbestos linings, for example) you may need a licence from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Asbestos Licensing Unit - or from the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI).

In practice, you or your client will probably call in a licensed specialist if you come across any asbestos on a job.

Voluntary certification

The Buy with Confidence - Trading Standards Approved scheme vets and approves businesses that operate in a fair an honest way, helping would-be customers to find a business that they can trust. A growing number of local authorities participate in the scheme. You can find out more and check whether your local authority has signed up on the Buy with Confidence website.

Health & safety, fire

Some key areas where health and safety regulations affect your business, particularly if you employ staff, include:

  • use of electrical equipment (like sprayers)
  • use of high pressure spray equipment like airless sprayers
  • access to first aid equipment
  • adequate provision and use of protective clothing and equipment
  • reporting of any accidents at work
  • working at height

Note that the Work at Height Regulations cover all work done at height where there is a risk of falling that could cause personal injury. The Regulations place very specific duties on both employers and self-employed workers to make sure that all necessary safety precautions are taken when people are working at or above a certain height.

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 and employment contracts

Pay and pensions

Working time: hours, leave, flexible working

Employment policies

Sickness and sick pay

Maternity, paternity and adoption


Managing home workers, remote workers, lone workers

Discipline and grievance

Dismissals and redundancies

Employment tribunals

Consumer protection

Most people have heard stories about 'cowboy' trades-people who do shoddy work and rip off their customers. Legislation covers areas such as pricing being accurate and genuine, contracts being fair, goods and services being of adequate quality and so on. There's more information about many different aspects of consumer protection and fair trading legislation on the Trading Standards Business Companion website. Information is also available on the website. Local Trading Standards officers should be able to advise you if you have a specific query.

The Painting and Decorating Association has a code of practice for members which covers matters such as fair and honest dealing.

Illegal workers

As an employer, it's your responsibility to check that someone you take on is entitled to work in the UK. There are fines for employers who employ illegal workers because they've failed to make the necessary checks. You can read more about preventing illegal working on the website.

Getting help

The Painting and Decorating Association has a free 24 hour legal helpline for its members.

Insurance for a painter

When you start up in business you will need insurance cover. Contact an insurer and explain how your business will operate. Be prepared to answer questions about the height at which you will be working, the type of equipment you will be using and so on. The insurer will then be able to recommend what cover you should have, which might include:

  • employer's liability (if you employ staff)
  • public liability (this is particularly important when working in other people's homes and premises)
  • contractor's liability/contractor's all risks
  • unfixed materials, plant and equipment on site
  • combined property
  • business interruption
  • legal expenses
  • premises, premises contents and stock
  • motor insurance (for business vehicles)

Business insurance policies for construction firms can be very costly and it would be a good idea to get some quotes at an early stage in your planning. Shop around to obtain the best cover at the most affordable price.

The Painting and Decorating Association has negotiated preferential rates on specialist business insurance for its members.

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