Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

March for Independents: 13 ways for retailers to keep on top of business law

Published:  20 February, 2015

Stephen Forward of the independent wine merchant business, Essentially Wine, gives a personal insight into how retailers like himself get on top of all the small business regulation.



Stephen Forward of the independent wine merchant business, Essentially Wine, gives a personal insight into how retailers like himself get on top of all the small business regulation. 

If like me you gave up a well paid nine-to-five office job, because you hated the tedious admin work, to start a wine business it won't be long before you realise you jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.

Running a wine business is as much about filing the correct paperwork as it is about selling wine. There is a mountain of regulation and hoopla to deal with - so much so that anyone with suicidal tendencies would likely feel compelled to hurl them self off the top of the nearest tall building at the thought.

So here's just a taste of some of the red tape you need to consider:

1) Get an Alcohol license - This one should be blindingly obvious so I won't go into too much detail. But give thought as to whether or not you need an on-trade licence or an off-trade licence. Above all, take legal advice when applying for both your premises licence and your personal licence. You can seek advice from your local council but you may as well phone the speaking clock in Japan, as you'll find that equally as unhelpful. You must display your premises licence on site.

2) Register your business as a food business with your local authority - You must do this even if you sell bottled drinks to consume off the premises. Google "register food business with local authority" and see the Food Standards Agency website for all the details. Drinks businesses are generally considered "Low Risk" so each year or so you'll be sent a self-assessment questionnaire to complete and won't normally be visited by some toff with a clipboard from the council. If you sell for consumption on the premises then be prepared for the odd visit from an inspector.

3) Study and understand Trading Standards - Get in touch with your local trading standards officer or do your research online. There's a host of information out there but you need to become an expert in this field to know what you can and cannot do and say. Be prepared for unannounced visits from your local trading standards officer.

4) If you're planning to employ staff, study and understand employment law. Every employee must, by law, be given a work contract or "Statement of Employment" detailing the terms and conditions of employment. All employees must be treated equally regardless of whether or not they are part time or full time. You can download sample contracts from the web, alternatively take professional advice. The website is a useful resource that explains employment law in simple terms that even a wine merchant can understand.

5) Register with the Information Commissioner's office. If you handle customer's personal details, which is a given, then you must register with the ICO. You can do this online at and pay the annual £35 fee. Above all read and attempt to understand the Data Protection Act ("DPA") as you are obliged to do so.

6) Write and display your mandatory policies at your premises on:

a. Health & Safety Policy;

b. Data Protection Policy;

c. Equal Opportunities Policy;

d. Environmental Policy;

e. Refusals Policy;

These policies need only be one page long, but should document and communicate your company policies in these subjects. There are 5 mandatory policies when you have at least 5 staff or more, but it's good practice to have them anyway even if your business is smaller.

7) Make sure your Employers Liability insurance and Public Liability insurance is up to date. This is required by law.

8) Display your HSE Health & Safety Poster where your staff can see it or provide a copy for your employees. This is required by law.

9) Carry out and document a site risk assessment for each business location. As a minimum these should cover all the risks you've identified, what you're doing to minimise this risk, and what action you plan to take in future. Risk assessments must be carried out at least annually. It's advisable to carry out separate risk assessments for fire too. These risk assessments will go some way to protecting you in the event of problems identified and also in terms of claiming on insurance policies in future.

10) Test equipment annually. This includes electrical equipment, fire alarms, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers, and burglar alarms. Some testing can be done by you; others will require professional sign-off. Keep a written log of all tests performed, including what was tested, who performed the test, and when the test was performed.

11) Keep and maintain a refusals log by the checkout counter. Record every challenge made when dealing with under age purchase attempts, even if the correct ID was produced. This may be inspected by your local licensing officer at any time.

12) When dealing with VAT, Payroll, and annual business and tax filings, there is no substitute for professional advice. So unless you are an expert in these fields take advice and consider outsourcing some or all aspects of these business critical issues.

13) If you play music, radio, or TV anywhere in your commercial premises, regardless as to whether or not customers can hear or see this, you may need to apply for a PPL licence (see, PRS Licence (see, and a TV Licence (see You may be required to pay an annual fee of varying amounts to all three organisations depending upon your exact usage of music, radio and TV.

Remember ignorance is never a satisfactory defence so, if you don't follow the regulations applicable to your business; be prepared to suffer the consequences if you are caught short.