Stay within the law and you'll reduce the risk of legal action and costly mistakes, and it can also increase customer satisfaction
But you already knew that, and you'll also know just how much effort it takes to track down the right information and stay on top of the law.
How can we help?
First off, you need to think in the same way that the law 'thinks'. There are three advantages to this:
- you'll find the help you need more quickly
- the information will make more sense
- your knowledge can be used more effectively
So, how does this work?
Right now, you probably view yourself only in terms of your trade - for example, you're a 'plumber' or 'corner shop' - but this isn't how the law sees you.
The law looks at:
- what you sell (goods, services or digital content)
- where you sell (in a shop or online, say)
- how you sell (treating customers fairly and abiding by any other rules that apply)
That's all there is to it? What next?
It's not the whole story, but it'll get you started. From here, take a look at the five sections below, which match the way the law sees businesses.
1 What you sell
As well as specific laws for certain products or types of business there are general laws that affect all consumer-facing businesses
There are broad rules on the sale and supply of goods, digital content and services. Trades - builders, electricians and plumbers, for example - generally supply goods and services. A solicitor or estate agent supplies services only. Digital content can be purely digital or it can be incorporated into goods, such as the software in a washing machine or car.
2 Where you sell
You'll also need to know the rules that cover whether you sell on-premises, off-premises or at a distance
On-premises refers to sales (contracts) made in a shop or market stall; off-premises sales are made at the customer's home, place of work, etc; and distance sales are made in various ways - for example, online, by mail order or by phone.
3 How you sell
All businesses must treat customers fairly, abide by the rules on prices and payments, and know that every sale is a contract
You already know what you sell and where, but are you sure that the way you go about business is not putting your business at risk? You need to understand the rules on how to legally display prices, know what unfair contract terms are, and provide 'alternative dispute resolution' information for your customers.
4 Key topics
Strict legislation covers the sales of age-restricted products and food, and the safety of consumer products
There are laws that affect specific businesses - such as those that sell age-restricted products or food and drink - and there are rules covering the safety of goods that apply to manufacturers and importers as well as retailers.
5 Key activities
Keeping and transporting livestock, animal feeding stuffs, and weighing and measuring are also covered
In addition to the above, there are rules on a number of 'other' activities - such as providing carrier bags, choosing a business name, and even keeping pet pigs - that may not seem an obvious fit under trading standards and consumer legislation.
These five sections have been used throughout the site to help you explore, find and make the most of the information.
Now, take a look at our Quick Guides, which are grouped by the five sections above. Each one contains easy-access guidance as well as signposts to related In-depth Guides so you can quickly see where you need to find out more.
You'll need to explore several guides to build a complete picture for your business. It takes a bit of time, but you'll get the information you need, plus you will have found out whether there are any other rules that could trip you up, and what to do about them.
Bear in mind that although Business Companion contains a lot of information, some laws are incredibly detailed and as such it is impractical to cover them in full in an online format; nor can the site, for example, cover the full specifications of the British and European Standards that are applicable to certain products. If you need a dialogue on a specific matter that is not covered on the site, please contact your local trading standards service.
Make sure you choose your location using the drop-down list at the top of the page. The In-depth Guides provide country-specific information as some laws are different in England, Scotland and Wales, and some are enforced differently. For guidance on the law in Northern Ireland, please see nibusinessinfo.co.uk