Post office legal issues

Red post office sign sticking out of beige wall

The range of legislation which applies to your Post Office business will depend to a certain extent on the nature of the business you plan to run alongside it.

What licences does a post office need?

The licences you need will depend on the range of retailing activities you are planning on.

If your business will store, sell, and possibly 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 the Food Safety Act. It's a good idea to contact your local authority early on in your planning so that you register in good time. There is no charge for registering.

Alcohol licensing

If you decide to sell alcohol then you'll need to be licensed.

In Scotland, England and Wales the legislation regulating the sale of alcohol requires anyone who wants to sell alcohol to apply for a personal licence. A premises licence is required for each outlet selling alcohol. The website and Scottish Government website contain more information.

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.

Tobacco retailer registration

Retailers in Scotland who sell tobacco products must be registered on the Tobacco Retailers Register. You can register online on the Scottish Tobacco Retailers Register website. A similar requirement applies in Northern Ireland, where registration is with Belfast City Council.

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 Department of Justice 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

Also bear in mind the following:

  • if you plan to sell petrol you will need to obtain a petroleum storage certificate from your local petroleum enforcing authority. The certificate doesn't have an expiry date but you'll need to pay a storage fee every year
  • if you plan 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'll need to register with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) if you plan to install a CCTV system. From May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation has introduced additional protection for personal data

Tobacco products

Cigarettes, tobacco products and e-cigarette products are age-restricted (minimum 18 years) and from May 2017 must be sold in standardised packaging. Regulations prohibit tobacco point-of-sale displays and advertising anywhere in the shop.


You must not:

  • sell alcohol to anyone under 18
  • sell tobacco and e-cigarette products to young people under 18 (in Scotland and Northern Ireland tobacco retailers must be registered)
  • sell fireworks to young people under 18 (except for items like party poppers which you can sell to those aged 16 and over)
  • sell Christmas crackers to children under 12
  • sell an intoxicating substance to people under 18 if you suspect the fumes will be inhaled for intoxification
  • sell cigarette lighter gas refills to people under 18
  • sell Lottery tickets to young people under 16
  • sell knives/blades to young people under 16
  • sell/rent out DVDs or video games to anyone under the age specified on an age-restricted title

You must display certain warning notices if you sell products like tobacco and fireworks.

Always ask to see a young person's proof of age, like their PASS card. You and your staff should keep a record of any occasions when you have refused to serve someone asking for an age-restricted item.

You should also be aware that food goods sold loose from bulk must be priced and weighed in metric units.

Your local trading standards department will be able to help you and there's also guidance on underage sales on the Business Companion website.

Waste batteries

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

Insurance for a post office

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 (eg on the way back from a cash and carry)
  • freezer breakdown
  • business interruption
  • employers liability
  • public and products liability
  • motor insurance (for delivery vehicles)

Members of the National Federation of SubPostmasters (NFSP) benefit from a number of free insurance schemes, including cover for subpostmasters and staff in the event of an attack.

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

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