LEGAL ASPECTS of RUNNING A BUSINESS - in brief

Depending on what sort of business you're starting you may be affected by law on:

* health and safety

* fire precautions

* the environment

* employee rights

* buildings

* providing services to disabled people

* intellectual property (for example business names, inventions and copyrights)

* fair trading (consumer credit, consumer protection and competition law)

* keeping information about people

* licences

* insurance

Health and safety

You are responsible for the effect your business may have on the health and safety of your employees and members of the public. You may need to register with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) or with your Local Authority. (by clicking here you can access a questionnaire which will give you an awareness of where you may need to comply with the Law)

For further information, visit the Health & Safety Executive website at www.hse.gov.uk or Tel: 08701545500.

Fire precautions

You may need a fire certificate, particularly if you're running a guest house, hotel or residential nursing home. For general advice on fire precautions, talk to your local fire service.

The Environment

There are environmental regulations that may apply if your business:

* uses refrigeration or air-conditioning equipment, fire equipment or solvents for cleaning

* produces, imports, exports, stores, transports, treats, disposes of or recovers waste

* produces, imports or exports packaging

* produces packaging waste

The Environment Agency provides advice for business and industries. Visit www.environment-agency.gov.uk/epns/ or call 0845 9333 111 (in Northern Ireland call 028 90 540 540).

Employees

You must protect the legal rights of your employees. If you take over an existing business, you must usually keep the existing terms and conditions of employment.

Buildings

You must take action if:

* a new building or change of use is involved

* plant or machinery is installed within an industrial site, but outside a building

* existing premises require structural alterations

Contact your Local Authority for further information, these may be found in the Business Services section under Legal & Premises

Intellectual property

'Intellectual property' describes things such as business names, patents and inventions. You should protect your own company name and logo, along with any inventions, product designs or copyrights. You should also respect other people's intellectual property rights. For example, you can't use the same name for your business as someone else doing similar work in your town.

The Patent Office can provide lots of useful information and advice. Visit their websites at www.patent.gov.uk and www.intellectual-property.gov.uk or telephone 08459 500 505.

Fair trading

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is responsible for protecting consumers by promoting effective competition, removing trading malpractice and publishing appropriate guidance. The OFT also issues consumer credit licences. To check whether your business is affected, see the OFT's website at www.oft.gov.uk or call 08457 224499. For information about consumer credit licences, call 020 7211 8608.

Keeping information about people

If your business involves keeping information about people, you will have to be careful about the sort of information you keep and how it is used in relation to the Data Protection Act. You may have to register if you keep such information on computer. The Data Protection Act 1984 grew out of public concern about personal privacy in the face of rapidly developing computer technology. The act covers personal data about living, identifiable people that can be automatically processed. To keep such information on your computer legally, you may have to register. For a range of useful free information booklets or to register, contact them direct. The registration fee is £75 for three years.

Data Protection Registrar, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF

For further information visit www.dataprotection.gov.uk or call the Data Protection Office on 01625 545745.

Providing services to disabled people

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, you must do everything you can to make sure that disabled people can benefit from the services you provide.

For further information, call the Disability Rights Commission Helpline on 08457 622 633, or visit www.disability.gov.uk/

Licences

A licence is required for many businesses, not just the obvious ones like casinos or public houses. For example, you need a licence to run a hotel, a guesthouse, a mobile shop or to be a hairdresser. You should always check whether your business requires a licence to trade.

Insurance

It's good practice to have insurance to cover the loss or theft of your business property, as well as other types of possible losses. It's also compulsory to have public liability insurance, which will often come as part of your contents insurance policy.

For more information contact:

England:

Business Link, 08456 045678 or visit www.businessadviceonline.org

Wales:

Business Connect, 08457 96 97 98 or visit www.businessconnect.org.uk

Scotland (Lowlands):

Small Business Gateway, 0845 609 6611 or visit www.sbgateway.com

Scotland (Highlands):

Highlands & Islands Enterprise Business Information Source 01463 715 400 or visit www.hie.co.uk

Northern Ireland:

Local Enterprise Development Unit, (LEDU) Ireland, 028 9049 1031 or visit www.ledu-ni.gov.uk