Business licences

When you start a new business you might need a licence for your specific activity or for the type of product you’re selling. Read this Quick Guide to find out more about the main types of licences and how to apply for one.

If you run a business where you play recorded music, it is likely that you will need a licence. This includes situations where you:

  • play recorded music in public or at your business (including background music on a CD, radio or music channel)

  • stage live music events in public (for example, a concert or festival)

  • play live or recorded music in a theatre

  • use sound recordings in a theatrical production (including on-stage and off-stage effects)

You can check if your business or organisation needs a licence and obtain it here. PPL PRS is the licensing body for music in the UK.

Some individual activities may also require one-off licences, for example, street parties or other public events. Different types of entertainment, such as nightclubs, live music venues, cinemas and others, may also require a licence or other authorisation from a licensing authority - eg your local council.

For certain financial activities, such as lending money or recovering debts and consumer credit, a business will need a licence from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Other activities include dealing with investments, accepting deposits, creating, running or winding up a collective investment schemes.

You’ll need to apply directly to the FCA and meet the conditions for your type of business. 

All childminding and nursery businesses must also be licensed. For this you’ll need to apply for a licence from a specific government body:

  • Ofsted in England

  • Care Inspectorate in Scotland

  • Care and Social Services Inspectorate in Wales

  • Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland

England and Wales

Businesses, organisations and individuals who want to sell or supply alcohol must have a licence or other authorisation from a licensing authority - usually a local council. 

You will either need a premise or a personal licence. In some cases you may need a club premises certificate, if you are a qualifying members’ clubs.

While you are not required to have a personal licence to be employed in a pub or other business that sells alcohol, premises licensed to sell alcohol must have a designated premises supervisor, who holds a personal licence. Personal licences allow you to sell alcohol on behalf of any business that has a premises licence or club premises certificate. 

Scotland

In Scotland, you will first have to contact your council to apply for a premises licence if you want to carry out ‘licensable activities’ from a particular venue. This includes selling and serving alcohol and providing entertainment. 

When you want to sell alcohol on a licensed premises, the sale must be authorised generally or specifically by a Personal Licence Holder. This means that the designated premises manager must possess a personal licence. In many premises, other members of staff also attain personal licences so that they can also authorise sales, conduct staff training, and as a matter of general best practice.

As this is a considerable responsibility, Personal Licence Holders have to:

  • undergo refresher training every 5 years to refresh their knowledge of the licensing regime, and send their training certificate to the relevant Licensing Board; and

  • apply to renew their personal licence every ten years, and lodge the renewal application no later than 3 months before expiry date of the licence.

If your business relates to arcade games, betting, bingo, casino, any other gambling machines or lotteries, then you will probably need a licence.

There are three types of licence that you may need. Your business may need all of them. They are:

  • an operating licence (from the Gabling Commission) - if your business provides any of the activities above you will need this licence

  • a personal management licence (from the Gabling Commission) - people responsible for some activities at licensed gambling operators require this type of licence

  • a personal functional licence (from the Gabling Commission) - people involved in gaming or handling cash in relation to gambling at a casino must hold this type of licence

  • a premises licence (from your local licensing authority).

You can apply for an operating licence from the Gambling Commission online. Local licensing authorities also provide gambling permits for pubs, clubs and other establishments for low-level gambling. 

If your staff, customers or visitors watch or record live TV programmes on any channel, or download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer, then your business address will need to be covered by a TV licence. This applies to any device provided by your business.

A TV licence can be purchased online from the TV Licensing website. You can find more information on the TV licensing website here

 

There are many other types of licences. The government website has a licence finder tool which you can use to find out what specific licences you might need. 

When you start a new food business or take over an existing business, you must register with your local authority. It’s usually free to register, and your registration cannot be refused, but you should register at least 28 days before opening.

A food business is anyone preparing, cooking, storing, handling, distributing, supplying or selling food.

Registration applies to food business like:

  • restaurants, cafes and take-aways

  • catering businesses run from home, mobile catering and temporary businesses

  • food stalls, food pop ups and food vans

  • distance selling, mail order and food delivery

  • companies involved with food distribution or supply that operate from an office should register - even if no food is kept at the premises

If you operate more than one premises, you need to register each premises with the local authority where it’s located.

 

Most licences for small businesses in the UK are generally granted by individual local authorities. If you’re in any doubt, you should speak to your local authority directly.

Your local authority will publish a list of its licence costs on its website. You can find your local authority here

The cost for a business licence will depend on the type of licence you’re applying for. It may also be affected by other factors.