Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

Architectural salvage: Legal matters

The following is an outline of some of the areas where legislation may be relevant to your business. The list is not exhaustive.

Retailing and selling online

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. Special distance selling regulations 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.

Do be aware that even if you're just buying and selling a few things on a fairly casual basis - perhaps online - to make a bit of extra cash, HM Revenue & Customs is likely to regard this as trading and will expect you to register for self-assessment tax and follow the rules that apply to self-employed traders.

Stolen goods

It goes without saying that you should never purchase salvage if you suspect that it might be stolen. It's not good enough to just turn a blind eye and say that you bought something 'in good faith' - you can still end up losing out and you could even become involved in a criminal investigation. Under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act, it is an offence to deal dishonestly in 'cultural objects' like architectural antiques that you know to be 'tainted' - for example stolen or removed illegally from a historic building.

The trade organisation Salvo has a database of stolen salvage items on its website to help dealers avoid buying dodgy goods. Salvo also has a voluntary code of good practice for members which covers things like checking an item's provenance and a seller's identity before making a purchase.

Money laundering

The Money Laundering Regulations apply to 'high value dealers', including salvage dealers, who accept or make cash payments of 10,000 euros or more (or the equivalent in any currency) for any transaction. If you handle transactions of this size you must register with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and put in place anti-money laundering systems. You can find out more on the website.

Disposal of waste and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH)

If you carry out work like wood stripping and restoration work, you're likely to be using substances like caustic paint strippers, glues, oils, varnishes and so on - and generating residues of old paint - which can be hazardous to health and to the environment. Dust caused by sanding can also be hazardous. You will have to comply with environmental and health and safety regulations covering the use of, exposure to, storage and disposal of these substances. More information is available from:

  • the website for guidance on environmental management
  • the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI) websites for guidance on COSHH issues

You can also contact your local authority environmental health department for more information.

General health and safety

The Health and Safety at Work Act and 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.

If you and your employees use machinery like bench planers and saws, sanders and hand tools then there are special health and safety regulations that you'll need to be aware of. Key issues covered by the regulations include:

  • proper use and maintenance of all equipment, including appropriate training and built-in safety features
  • provision of suitable protective equipment, like ear and eye defenders, masks and gloves
  • electricity in the workplace

If you do specialist work like on-site salvage removal and demolition then there are other health and safety regulations you'll need to be aware of, including those covering working at height and working with asbestos.

Health and safety legislation requires operators of machinery like construction plant to be properly trained and qualified. Skills registration card schemes like the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) run by CITB enable employers to show that their plant operators are properly qualified. You can find out more about the CPCS on the CITB website.

You'll need to make sure that your outlet is safe for employees and customers too. This includes, for example, avoiding storing heavy items in such a way that they could fall and injure someone, making sure that people don't have to climb on unsafe structures to get at things and taking appropriate precautions to prevent people injuring themselves on sharp points and edges.

Guidance notes on health and safety matters are available from the HSE and HSENI websites and from your local authority environmental health department.

Employment matters

Anyone employing staff must comply with general 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.

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.