Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

Art shop: Legal matters

The following is an overview of some of the main pieces of legislation that may be particularly relevant to your art supplies business. The list is not intended to be exhaustive.


There is a wide range of legislation that applies to retail outlets 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. You will be responsible for making sure that all goods or services are fit for their intended purpose and of satisfactory quality.

Information for businesses on consumer protection legislation is available on the Business Companion website. You can also get advice on specific points from your local trading standards department.

Sales of intoxicating substances (like glues and solvents) and dangerous weapons (like scalpels, knives and blades)

You cannot sell knives - including craft knives - or blades to people under 18 years of age. Similarly it is an offence to supply a substance like thinners to a person under the age of 18 if you suspect that he or she is going to inhale the fumes for the purpose of causing intoxication. It is your responsibility to satisfy yourself that the person is not underage - or in the case of products like thinners is going to use them for their intended purpose.

Storage, sale and disposal of potentially hazardous substances

Specific regulations cover the use, storage and sale of substances such as turpentine. If you offer services such as picture cleaning or restoration you may be using various chemicals which you have a duty to dispose of safely - for example, by using an authorised waste carrier. The COSHH Essentials website is a good starting point for finding out more about working with potentially hazardous substances.

Substances that could be used to make explosives

There are special regulations in place to prevent substances that could potentially be used to make explosives getting into the wrong hands. Some substances, which would normally only be available from specialist suppliers, are regulated and can only be supplied to a member of the public who has a licence to obtain and possess them. Other substances, although not regulated, are nevertheless of potential concern. Examples of these, which are referred to as 'reportable substances', include the solvent acetone and some acidic etching agents.

You should report any suspicious transactions (or disappearances due to theft) involving regulated or reportable substances to the police Anti-terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321. A transaction could be suspicious for various reasons, for example because the customer insists on paying cash and/or wants an unusually large quantity of a product containing a reportable substance.

There's more information for businesses about regulated and reportable substances on the website.

Carrier bag charge

Retailers in Wales and Scotland must charge customers at least 5 pence if they supply them with a single-use carrier bag. This applies to all types of single-use bag, whether they are made of plastic, paper or plant-based starch. In Northern Ireland retailers must charge customers a 5 pence levy on all bags with a retail price of less than 20 pence (including any bags that would otherwise be free of charge), whether they are single-use or reusable. You can get detailed guidance about when the charge applies and your legal responsibilities as a retailer on the Welsh Government Carrier Bag Charge, Zero Waste Scotland and NI Direct websites.

A 5 pence charge applies in England, but small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees) are exempt.

Fire safety

All employers must comply with fire safety regulations - this means carrying out a fire risk assessment at your premises and putting in place fire precaution measures. These could include fire alarm systems and extinguishers as well as clearly signed escape routes. When carrying out your fire safety assessment don't forget that some of the products you stock are highly flammable and should be stored properly. If you have five or more employees your fire risk assessment must be written down. You're responsible not only for the safety of your staff but also of anyone who might be on your premises, like customers or suppliers. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has produced several helpful guides for businesses. You can download these from the website. Information about fire regulations in Northern Ireland is available on the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service website.

General health and safety

You must make sure that your business complies with health and safety legislation. This covers all aspects of work place health and safety. 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. Contact your local authority health and safety section for advice and guidance. Further information and guidance leaflets on all aspects of health and safety are available on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) websites.

Use of equipment and tools

The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations cover the use and maintenance of hand and power tools so that they are used in conditions that are as safe as possible, for example during activities such as picture framing or canvas stretching. You might also need to provide your employees with protective clothing if they carry out many workshop tasks involving substances such as glues and varnishes, or if they create a lot of dust.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important pieces of legislation that 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.

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.

Finding out more

The Fine Art Trade Guild provides a free legal advice helpline for members, giving professional advice on consumer and employment law, tax, VAT and other legal matters.