Business licence UK: Who needs one and how to apply

Remay Villaester (May)
26.04.21
3 minute read

Setting up a new business? This is a hugely exciting time for any entrepreneur, but there’s also a long list of things to do.

One of the most important things to look into is whether you need a business licence. Not every type of company needs a business licence in the UK, but it’s really important to check.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics about what a UK business licence is, who needs one and how to apply. Plus, how much it costs. We’ll also throw in a handy tip to help you save money on business transactions with Wise Multi-currency account

Let's get started!

What is a business licence in the UK and who needs one?

A business licence provides permission for certain types of business activities. Most are issued by the local authority in your area, but for some types of business activities, you’ll need to apply to a specific government body. For example, if you’d like to set up a childcare business in England, you’ll need to apply to Ofsted for a licence¹.

Licences aren’t required for many businesses, unless you’re involved in certain business activities. You’ll almost certainly need some kind of licence if you run a taxi company, food business, hotel, childcare or nursery business, hairdressing salon, tattoo parlour, gambling service, security guard company or pet shop¹.

Let’s take a look at a few more examples of who may need a licence, including where to apply for the relevant business licence¹:

  • Selling alcohol - you’ll need authorisation from your local licensing authority, including a personal licence and a premises licence.
  • Certain financial activities, such as lending money - seek a licence from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
  • Playing recorded music in public (i.e. in a shop or at an event) - apply to the UK’s music licensing company PPL PRS.
  • Running a business for HGV driver training or driving instructors - the DVLA will issue licences to enable your drivers to legally drive certain vehicles.
  • Processing customers’ personal data - apply to the Information Commissioners’ Office for a licence.

Not sure if you need a business licence or where to apply for one? Use this handy licence finder tool on the Government website.

If you need a licence and don’t get one, you could be handed a pretty eye-watering fine or other penalties.

Do I need a business licence to sell online in the UK?

If you plan to sell goods and services online, you don’t need a special licence. However, you’ll still need to make sure you have the relevant licence to cover your overall business activities, as we’ve discussed above.

But there are a number of rules and conditions relating to selling online in the UK, particularly in relation to selling your goods overseas. These include VAT and exporting rules, along with distance selling regulations.

How to get a business licence in the UK

The first thing to do is head to the Government website’s licence finder tool. This is by far the easiest way to figure out if you need a licence, which licence you need and where to apply for it.

You can also speak to your local authority for advice on the first steps to take. Once you have the right info, you can pick up and download the forms you’ll need to fill in.

There are different requirements for each type of business licence. You may need accredited qualifications related to your industry sector. For example, you’re likely to need a paediatric first aid certificate, DBS check and be registered on the Early Years Register to set up a childminding business².

Some applications require checks by your local authority. For example, a food business will need to have its kitchen and food preparation processes inspected by their local council.

Business licence cost for UK companies

So, how much is a business licence in the UK? The short answer is, it depends.

The application fee and other costs depends on which kind of licence(s) your business needs. Fees can also vary between local authorities and organisations.

In some cases, you may need more than one licence to run your business legally, so you’ll need to set aside a budget for application fees.

Thinking of trading internationally? Save money with Wise for Business

If you have big plans for your new business, including selling abroad, you’ll need a convenient and cost-effective way to manage your finances.

Open a multi-currency Wise for Business account and you can pay staff, buy goods and supplies and do deals all over the world cheaper than most banks. Better still, you’ll always get the mid-market exchange rate. Some businesses start off with international transfers using a service like PayPal, but Wise is nearly 19x cheaper.

Wise for Business is super handy for streamlined international payments, invoices in multiple currencies and low-fee spending in 200+ currencies using a linked contactless debit card.

In short, choose Wise and you’ll be getting your new venture off to an excellent start.

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After reading this guide, you should have a better idea of what businesses licences are and who needs one.

However, there are many, many different licence types for all kinds of business activities, so you will need to do some homework to find the most suitable options for you. The best of luck with your new business!


Sources used for this article:

  1. gov.uk - licence finder
  2. Child Minding website

Sources checked on 26th April 2021


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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