Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

Antique dealer: Legal matters

The following is an outline of some of the areas which may be relevant to your antiques business. The list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Dealing in antiques

The Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act makes it illegal to deal knowingly in any object that might be 'tainted' - that is to say obtained in an illegal manner. Dealers are expected to take appropriate steps to make sure that any object they purchase is not tainted in this way. Of course, it goes without saying that normal criminal law applies when it comes to receiving and selling stolen goods, passing items off fraudulently and so on. More information is available on the Collections Trust website.

Dealing in fine art

Under artist's resale rights laws known as droit de suite, certain fine art transactions attract a levy which must be paid to a special collecting society. Levies raised are passed on to the original creator of the work or their estate. It is the art dealer's responsibility to make sure that the levy is paid whenever it's due. More information is available on the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) website.


There is a wide range of legislation that applies to retailers to protect 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. Customers must be treated fairly and honestly. Special distance selling rules apply to businesses that sell goods online.

You will be responsible for making sure that all goods are fit for their intended purpose and of satisfactory quality. Be particularly careful when it comes to selling second-hand electrical items like antique lights - these must be safe to use. According to Trading Standards:

"If you sell second-hand electrical goods which are unsafe or incorrectly labelled, and you haven't taken reasonable precautions to avoid this, you may be prosecuted. Taking reasonable precautions means you must take positive steps to ensure that you comply with the law. This will mean, in most cases, having the goods checked by a qualified electrician."

You can get more information about consumer protection legislation from your local Trading Standards department. There's detailed guidance on your legal obligations to consumers, and on the requirements when selling online, on the Trading Standards Business Companion website. Useful information is also available on the website.

Disposal of waste and control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH)

If you undertake processes on the premises such as stripping furniture, or carry out repairs or restoration work, you are likely to be using substances such as paint strippers, glue, varnishes and so on which may be hazardous to health. You will have to comply with regulations covering the use, storage and disposal of these substances. Information about protecting yourself, your workers and others is available from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). More information about disposing of hazardous and other wastes is available on the website.

Money laundering

The Money Laundering Regulations apply to High Value Dealers, including antique dealers, which make payments of or accept the equivalent of 10,000 euros in cash for any single transaction. If you handle transactions of this size you must register with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and put in place anti-money laundering systems.

Employment matters

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important pieces of legislation which you must be aware of include:

  • The Employment Rights Act
  • The National Minimum Wage Act
  • The Working Time Regulations

The employing people section of the website includes information and guidance on all aspects of employment legislation. Information for businesses in Northern Ireland is available on the NI Business Info website.

Health and safety

The Health and Safety at Work Act and the numerous regulations made under it cover all aspects of health and safety at all business premises. Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety at work of all their employees. Those with five or more employees must prepare a written health and safety policy statement.

Further information and guidance leaflets on all aspects of health and safety are available on the HSE and the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) websites and from your local authority environmental health department.

Equality and discrimination law

You must not discriminate against anyone because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion, sex or sexual orientation. This applies to every aspect of your business operations, from taking people on to dismissing them. You may need to make reasonable adjustments to your premises and working arrangements so that you don't unfairly discriminate against disabled people.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Equality Commission for Northern Ireland websites contain further information on your legal duties.