This section should give you a good overview some of the most important issues. However, commercial law can be complex and we would strongly advise you to contact a local lawyer before committing yourself to any legally binding contracts.
You should be aware of the laws that relate to your sector and to running a business generally. The over-riding rule is that prevention is better than cure - make sure that you do not break the law by finding out what you need to know BEFORE you start to trade.
Setting up a business is an exciting time but without the right legal advice it can also be a legal minefield. Prevention is better than cure. A specialised business solicitor can help you identify future legal problems and advise you on what steps to take to prevent problems before they happen, which will protect your business from risk and save you money.
To find your nearest business law expert, visit ‘find a solicitor’ at www.lawsociety.org/find-a-solicitor
Check with your local authority to make sure that you do not need planning permission. Also it is advisable to check your tenancy agreement or the deeds of your home to rule out the possibility that here maybe exclusion clauses that prohibit you running a business from the property. Other considerations may be business rates and Capital Gains Tax if any part of the home is exclusively used for business.
Commercial property law is extremely complex and should not be tackled alone. Leases and agreements generally have long term implications and heavy financial penalties. It is a specialised area of law so look for someone with relevant experience.
Taking on a franchise will definitely involve signing a legally binding agreement. A solicitor will be able to guide you through the process and make sure that you are not commiting to something which you might later regret.
Contracts occur in every business. It might be as simple as the agreement with the milkman to deliver the milk and your obligation to pay for it, or it might be an order you made with a major supplier. While it is good practice for all business contracts to be in writing it is not essential. The contract may be formed orally, by parties agreeing the terms on the telephone but bear in mind that his could be open to differences in understanding of what has been agreed. Always read the ‘small print’ and take appropriate legal advice before entering into any contractural agreement that could end up with a dispute.
Some types of businesses do need to obtain special licenses before they open for business. The .gov website contains a useful ‘license finder’ tool: https://www.gov.uk/licence-finder.
The Citizens Advice site has a description of the the most commonly required licenses (by trade): https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/law-and-rights/legal-system/licences-and-other-types-of-official-permission/
Health and safety laws apply to all businesses. As an employer, or a self-employed person, you are responsible for health and safety in your business. Laws are there to protect you, your employees and the public from workplace dangers. The HSE (Health & Safety Executive) site is for employers and those who want some basic information on what they must do to make sure their businesses comply with health and safety law. See: www.hse.gov.uk/simple-health-safety/index.htm
Your local authority will be able to advise you on local trading regulations such as opening hours.
If you employ people you have certain duties such as the provision of a contract of employment, fair disciplinary procedures and Employer’s Liability Insurance. See also: HR & Staff
Our insurance section covers this in more depth but you must consider any action or event which involves your business which could result in it being sued. This could involve Professional Indemnity and public Liability.
The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) is an Act of Parliament which defines UK law on the processing of data on identifiable living people. It is the main piece of legislation that governs the protection of personal data in the UK.
Some common types of intellectual property rights (IPR) are trademarks, copyright, patents, industrial design rights, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets: all these cover music, literature, and other artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs.
Terms and conditions are used for legal purposes by websites and internet service providers that store a user’s personal data, such as e-commerce and social networking services. A legitimate terms-of-service agreement is legally binding and may be subject to change.
The various options are covered in the chapter 5 entitled ‘Business Set Up’. If you need to form a limited company or are creating a partnership, you may well advised to take legal advice to ensure that this is done correctly. Going into business with others, even if they are friends, is notoriously unpredictable. Someone who behaves perfectly rationally normally sometimes can be entirely different when it money and stress become involved. Make sure that you have a written agreement which covers all eventualities.
Taking professional legal advice is not cheap but is essential for many of the subject mentioned here. The true cost of not seeking help may only materialise in years to come but could prove to be considerably more expensive in the long run. Many solicitors offer a free introductory session so, at very least, prepare a summary of your possible legal needs and obtain a quote for any assistance that may be required.
If you run your own business in England and would like to learn more about business law, we have compiled a library of useful resources and frequently asked questions which we hope that you will find both interesting and useful.
Citizens Advice Bureau
Citizens Advice Bureaux offer free, confidential, impartial and independent advice from over 3,500 locations. These include high streets, community centres, doctors
The Law Society
If you need to find a solicitor to help with any legal aspect of your business, the Law Societys website contains a searchable database. this allows you to choose solicitors or law firms by specialism.