Keeping it Legal – Environment

Your business can be held responsible for any environmental damage it causes. Fines of more than £5,000 are common and there are no limits on financial penalties.

Every business is legally responsible for the waste it produces. Advice is available from your local council and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

Store your waste safely and securely in suitable sacks, containers or skips. Make sure that whoever collects and disposes of it is doing so properly – and that they are legally registered.

Businesses that produce, import or export packaging or will have packaging waste for recycling are subject to special regulations. Under new EU-wide regulations scheduled for 2006 introduction, makers, sellers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment will have to recycle consumers’ discarded goods.

Firms that create excessive levels of domestic waste water must gain consent from their local water company. Emissions into the air also need to be checked by the local authority and the local branch of the Environment Agency.

Solvents, refrigeration, air conditioning and firefighting equipment can contain ozone-depleting substances. If such equipment contains CFCs, HCFCs or halons, firms are advised to call the Environment and Energy Helpline (0800 585 794).

Planning Permission

Most building work or change of premises’ use requires planning permission or sanctioning under building regulations. Check first with your local council. Generally speaking, planning permission is not required for minor changes to the inside of buildings, but interior alterations should always be checked with the council to ensure they conform with building regulations.

You might require planning permission to use your home (or other associated buildings) as business premises if this fundamentally alters how the building is used or affects the nature of the surrounding area (e.g. a marked rise in traffic or noise which could disturb your neighbours).


Some businesses require a licence from a local authority (e.g. taxi companies, nightclubs, pet shops, and scrap metal dealers). Local authority environmental health departments issue licences for hotels, restaurants, abattoirs, hairdressers, those who work with asbestos, mobile shops and premises selling food, massage and skin-piercing services (e.g. acupuncturists and tattooists).

To sell alcohol in a shop, pub, club, nightclub, restaurant, hotel or gaming establishment, you must apply (usually to your local authority) for a licence.

Childminders and day-care nurseries must register with the Office for Standards in Education. Waste management and scrap metal processing firms and businesses which have a high demand for water or discharge effluent must apply to the Environment Agency.

If using your home as business premises fundamentally alters how the building is used, you must seek planning permission.

Operators of public-service vehicles must apply to their local Traffic Area Office.

If your business is a bureau de change or if it involves 3rd-party cheque-cashing or money transmission services, you must register with HM Revenue & Customs.

The Office of Fair Trading’s Consumer Credit Licensing Bureau must first issue a licence if a business will involve lending money, offering or arranging credit, debt collecting, issuing credit cards, offering debt adjusting or counselling services, operating a credit-reference agency or hiring, leasing or renting goods.