Skip to main content
We’re here with practical legal information for your business. Learn about employment law, company law and more.


Setting up a business involves complying with a range of legal requirements. Find out which ones apply to you and your new enterprise.

What particular regulations do specific types of business (such as a hotel, or a printer, or a taxi firm) need to follow? We explain some of the key legal issues to consider for 200 types of business.

While poor governance can bring serious legal consequences, the law can also protect business owners and managers and help to prevent conflict.

Whether you want to raise finance, join forces with someone else, buy or sell a business, it pays to be aware of the legal implications.

From pay, hours and time off to discipline, grievance and hiring and firing employees, find out about your legal responsibilities as an employer.

Marketing matters. Marketing drives sales for businesses of all sizes by ensuring that customers think of their brand when they want to buy.

Commercial disputes can prove time-consuming, stressful and expensive, but having robust legal agreements can help to prevent them from occurring.

Whether your business owns or rents premises, your legal liabilities can be substantial. Commercial property law is complex, but you can avoid common pitfalls.

With information and sound advice, living up to your legal responsibilities to safeguard your employees, customers and visitors need not be difficult or costly.

As information technology continues to evolve, legislation must also change. It affects everything from data protection and online selling to internet policies for employees.

Intellectual property (IP) isn't solely relevant to larger businesses or those involved in developing innovative new products: all products have IP.

Knowing how and when you plan to sell or relinquish control of your business can help you to make better decisions and achieve the best possible outcome.

From bereavement, wills, inheritance, separation and divorce to selling a house, personal injury and traffic offences, learn more about your personal legal rights.

Hotel legal issues

The following is an outline of some of the key pieces of legislation that may apply to a hotel business.

What licences does a hotel need? 

To operate as a hotel providing a typical range of services there are a number of licences that you may have to obtain depending on the activities you engage in and the range of services you offer:

  • Register as a food business with the local authority environmental health department if you are preparing and serving food on the premises.
  • In England and Wales - a premises licence from your local licensing authority covering the sale of alcohol. You can read more about alcohol licensing in England and Wales on the website.
  • In England and Wales - a personal licence from your local licensing authority authorising a designated responsible person (for example yourself or a manager) to oversee the sale of alcohol.
  • In Northern Ireland - an alcohol licence from the county court. You can read more about alcohol licensing in Northern Ireland on the NI Direct website.
  • In Scotland - a premises alcohol licence from the local Licensing Board. You can read more about alcohol licensing in Scotland on the Scottish Government website.
  • In Scotland - a personal licence from the local Licensing Board. All licensed premises in Scotland require alcohol sales to be made by - or under the authorisation of - a personal licence holder.
  • An appropriate premises licence if regulated entertainment is provided - there is more about regulated entertainment licensing on the website (but note that many types of entertainment have been removed from the scope of regulation).
  • In Great Britain - a licensed premises gaming machine permit from your local licensing authority if you have more than two gaming machines (assuming you have an alcohol licence - licensed premises can have up to two category C or D low-prize/low-stake gaming machines under the terms of their licence although they do need to notify their local authority). The premises licence holder will also have to register for Machine Games Duty with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). In Northern Ireland the terms of your alcohol licence will state the number of machines you can have on the premises.
  • The 'TheMusicLicence' licence from PPL PRS allows a business or organisation to legally play music for employees or customers.
  • One or more television licences, depending on the number of accommodation rooms (a single television licence covers up to 15 accommodation units at one site including the proprietor's own living accommodation if applicable. An extra fee is due for every five additional units - or part thereof).
  • Appropriate copyright licences to cover the use of films - for example a DVD library or in-room entertainment system. There's more about copyright licensing for hotels including details of DVD and film licensing on the Visit Britain website.
  • If massages and certain other special treatments (such as manicure, acupuncture or electrolysis) are offered on the premises - perhaps in a spa hotel or similar - then you may require a 'special treatments licence' from your local authority. Check with your local authority. There is often a charge for this licence.
  • Premises used for weddings or civil partnership ceremonies need to be approved by the local authority.
  • You need permission from the local authority to put chairs and tables outside on the pavement (sometimes known as a 'pavement dining licence').
  • Registration with the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) as a data user is required if computerised records of individuals' personal details are kept (for example guest records).

Trade specific legislation

The hotel trade is subject to quite a significant amount of regulation. You should consider obtaining specialist help if necessary to make sure you comply with all the legal requirements.

There's a legal distinction between 'hotels' and 'private hotels' and some different rules apply. 'Hotels' offer food, drink and accommodation to anyone who appears willing and able to pay and is in a fit state (not drunk for example). 'Private hotels' generally only accept advance bookings and/or don't provide food and drink.

The following is an outline of some of the areas that are likely to be relevant to you. This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Accommodation and guests

Depending on the number of letting bedrooms you have, you may have to comply with special hotel legislation. If you can accommodate eight guests or more you will have to display a current tariff showing clearly what the price covers such as meals, service charges, VAT and so on. You must keep a guest register containing details of guests over the age of 16 (although this legislation has been earmarked as 'obsolete' and may soon be scrapped).

In most cases you'll need to display clear and transparent information about your room rates.

You can read guidance notes on a range of different topics of relevance to accommodation providers such as hotel businesses on the Trading Standards Business Companion website. Information is also available from your local authority Trading Standards Department.

Alcohol licensing legislation

If you intend to sell alcohol you'll need to obtain the appropriate licence and comply with the terms of the legislation and licensing conditions. The sale of alcohol is regulated differently in England and Wales, in Northern Ireland, and in Scotland. You can find out more information about alcohol licensing from:

Food safety and hygiene

All businesses in the food sector must comply with strict food safety legislation. Food safety legislation covers all aspects of food preparation, storage and sale. Your staff should be trained in food safety and at least one person should have gained a food hygiene qualification. Before you open you must register your business with the local authority environmental health department. Your local environmental health officer will be able to give you advice and guidance as to what you should install in your premises to make sure your operating areas are hygienic and how to comply with the requirements of the food safety legislation.

You should put in place food safety management procedures based on HACCP principles. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point and is a system used to identify possible food safety problems and to put in place procedures to stop these from happening. You can find out more about HACCP on the Food Standards Agency website.

Perishable foods - for example fish and meat products - must always be stored correctly and at the right temperature in refrigerators. Different types of foodstuffs should be stored separately as should raw and cooked foods.

Local authorities publish the results of individual businesses' food hygiene inspections online. Food businesses in Wales and Northern Ireland must by law display their food hygiene prominently at their premises.

Food waste

If your business produces food waste - most catering businesses do - you must make sure that you dispose of it correctly. It mustn't contaminate the environment and it can't be fed to livestock. If you use a waste carrier to get rid of your waste, make sure they are properly authorised. You can find out more about your responsibilities on the website.

Food labelling and information regulations

Although most aspects of food labelling legislation don't apply to businesses like hotels (which don't produce pre-packed foods) you'll need to provide information to customers about any of 14 specified allergens included in your dishes. You could do this by including the information on your menus, or you could provide the information verbally. If you are serving buffet-style food you'll need to provide allergen information separately for each food item. You can find out more about providing allergen information on the Food Standards Agency website.

Information regulations also cover genetically modified soya or maize or additives, or flavourings from GM sources. Any products you sell containing these must be identified and staff must be trained and provided with this information which they can pass on to customers if they have a query about which items contain GM products. You should make sure that your menus and other notices alert customers to the fact that this information is available. Similarly, you must inform customers if any food or ingredients have been irradiated - these must be described as irradiated or treated with ionising radiation.

It goes without saying that all the food you serve should contain what your menu says it contains. It is not uncommon for trading standards officers to test samples of food served to check they contain what they say they do.

Contact your local environmental health officer (EHO) for guidance on the regulations with which you must comply.

Food records

All food businesses are required by law to keep certain records of food and drink supplies that they purchase. Details to be recorded include the supplier's name and address, the type of product and the delivery date. Records for non-perishable food must be kept for five years and perishable food records - things like fish - must be kept for six months. An invoice from the supplier is often a sufficient record.

Duty-paid tax stamps for spirits

All bottles of spirits above 30% alcohol by volume must have a tax stamp on them to prove that UK duty has been paid on them. It is illegal to hold in stock or to sell any bottle that is not marked in this way.

Workplace smoking ban

Smoking is not permitted in workplaces such as restaurants and the public areas of hotels (although it is permitted in designated hotel bedrooms). You must display appropriate 'No Smoking' signs. The legislation varies slightly in different parts of the UK, so contact your local authority for details of how the ban affects you.

Smoking bans don't currently apply to electronic 'e-cigarettes' (vaporisers), but a ban on using them in indoor public places has been discussed in Wales.

Gaming legislation

Coin-operated amusement machines offering games of chance are subject to gaming legislation and Machine Games Duty (MGD). In Great Britain if you only have two gaming machines in a premises with an alcohol licence you only need to notify your local licensing authority. If you want to provide more than two you'll need to apply for a licensed premises gaming machine permit. In Northern Ireland your alcohol licence entitles you to a certain number of gaming machines. The licensing authority will decide how many you can have when they grant the licence.

You can find out more about gaming legislation in Great Britain on the Gambling Commission website. The Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland (DSDNI) website has information about gambling laws in Northern Ireland.

There is more information about MGD on the website.

Employment matters

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Illegal workers

As an employer it's your responsibility to check that someone you take on is entitled to work in the UK. This can be particularly important for employers in the catering and hospitality industries which often employ large numbers of seasonal, temporary and casual workers. There are fines for employers who employ illegal workers because they've failed to make the necessary checks. You can read more about preventing illegal working on the 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. You may need to make reasonable adjustments to your premises and working arrangements so that you don't unfairly discriminate against disabled people.

This applies to every aspect of your business operations, including how you treat guests and members of the public. For example, you can't turn away a guest because of their sex, race, disability or sexual orientation. If yours is a hotel that accepts walk-in customers who haven't booked in advance, then unless you are full you can only turn them away if you think they are not likely to pay you, or if they are intoxicated or otherwise unfit. If your establishment is legally defined as a 'private hotel' (see above) then you can pick and choose your guests so long as you don't breach equality legislation.

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

More information

The Trading Standards Business Companion website includes detailed information and guidance on many different aspects of the law including food and drink pricing and payment, weights and measures, and fair trading.

A detailed overview of legislation of particular relevance to hotel businesses is available on the Visit Britain website.

Health & Safety, fire

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 and guests. Those with five or more employees must prepare a written health and safety policy statement.

All employers with business premises must comply with fire safety regulations. This is particularly important in premises like hotels that provide accommodation for both guests and staff. To comply with the regulations you will need to carry out a fire risk assessment and put in place fire precaution measures. These could include fire alarm systems and extinguishers as well as clearly signed escape routes. You're responsible for the safety of your staff and your guests. The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced several helpful guides to the regulations including a guide for businesses providing sleeping accommodation for paying guests. You can download this and other fire safety guides from the website.

Insurance for a hotel

When you start up in business you will need insurance cover. Contact an insurer and explain exactly how your business will operate. They will then recommend what cover you should have. This might include:

  • employer's liability
  • public liability, including indemnity against food poisoning
  • premises fixtures and fittings glass/crockery breakages and stock
  • freezer breakdown
  • cash and loss of money
  • visitors' belongings and personal effects
  • theft by employees
  • computer failure/data loss
  • business interruption
  • motor insurance
  • legal expenses

Be sure that you are covered for any specific liabilities that might arise - for example guests using a swimming pool or being transported in the hotel's vehicles.

There are a number of companies that offer policies tailored to the needs of the hotel trade. You should obtain several quotes for comparison purposes. Many trade associations also offer specialist insurance services to their members often at discounted rates. For example, the Institute of Hospitality offers members savings on a range of services including insurance, through its IoH Privileges scheme. UKHospitality (UKH) offers its members competitively-priced tailored business insurance policies through their preferred specialist supplier.

When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form.


Stay up-to-date with business advice and news

Sign up to this lively and colourful newsletter for new and more established small businesses.