Builders merchants may face a range of legal issues, including compliance with consumer protection laws and regulations, such as the Consumer Rights Act and the Sale of Goods Act. They may also need to adhere to health and safety regulations in order to protect employees and customers on the job site.
In addition, builders merchants may face disputes with suppliers or customers over payment or delivery of goods, and may need to resolve these issues through legal channels. Another potential legal issue that builders merchants in the UK may face is liability for injuries or damages that occur on the job site.
It is important for builders merchants in the UK to be aware of these legal issues and to take steps to mitigate risk and protect the business, such as maintaining proper insurance coverage and following all relevant laws and regulations
What licences does a builders merchant need?
There are a number of areas in which your builders merchant business might need a license:
- In Northern Ireland, if you operate vehicles weighing more than 1,525 kg or 3.5 tonnes, then you’ll need a goods vehicle operator’s licence (restricted category if you only transport your own goods). The contact details for your local Traffic Commissioner can be found on the Gov.uk website. If you live in Northern Ireland, contact the Department for Infrastructure (DfI)’s Transport Regulation Unit (TRU).
- It is probably necessary to obtain a Music Licence from PPL PRS Ltd if you play background music in your outlets and/or warehouse areas – or play music through your telephone system. The PPL PRS website allows you to pay the annual fee online
- If you offer credit finance to consumers, you need to be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). In addition to sole traders such as builders and small partnerships, private consumers may also be eligible. Consumer credit information can be found on the FCA’s website
Building products are subject to special European regulations which require them to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and suitable for constructing safe buildings that comply with all applicable regulations (such as the Building Regulations). Retailers must ensure that electrical equipment carries the CE marking, which is required by law for many construction products. The UK remains subject to EU laws even though it voted to leave the EU in the June 2016 referendum.
Stocking appropriate products and advising your customers appropriately will be easier if you are familiar with the Building Regulations and their requirements.
Retailing and merchanting
Retail and wholesale outlets are regulated by a variety of laws that protect consumers’ interests. If your outlet is open to the public, you should ensure that you comply with all aspects of retailing and consumer protection legislation. There must be no misleading descriptions of goods and services, and the retail price of goods must be clearly displayed. Quality and suitability of all goods and services are your responsibility.
There are several things to keep in mind:
- If the manufacturer cannot be identified, retailers and suppliers are liable for defective goods they supply. Many products are regulated for their safety, and retailers are only allowed to stock these products
- The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations govern the sale, storage, and use of potentially hazardous substances. It is important to keep dust from cement bags, silica dust blowing off from loose fine aggregates, and chemicals stored in potentially harmful conditions under control. When customers purchase potentially hazardous products, you should also provide them with appropriate safety information
- Dangerous Weapons Act prohibits the sale of knives or blades to people under 18
- The Intoxicating Substances Supply Act makes it illegal to sell a substance to a person under the age of 18 if it is suspected the fumes will be inhaled for intoxication purposes.
- In accordance with the Units of Measurement Regulations, all pre-packaged goods that are sold by weight, length, etc., must be measured in metric units
- REACH – Register, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals – is a regulation that may affect businesses that sell or distribute chemicals. A tonne or more of chemicals manufactured or imported into the EU are covered by REACH. On the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website, you can learn more about how REACH may affect you.
You can get assistance from your local Trading Standards department regarding retailing and trading legislation. The Trading Standards Business Companion website provides information about many different aspects of consumer protection and fair trading legislation. The Gov.uk website also provides information.
A wide range of environmental legislation is in place to protect the environment, from waste disposal to safe storage of potentially harmful substances. The following websites provide more information about all aspects of environmental legislation:
- The Environment Agency in England
- Natural Resources Wales
- The Northern Ireland Environment Agency
- The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland
Substances that could be used to make explosives
To prevent substances from being misused to make explosives, special regulations have been put in place. Some substances, normally available only from specialist suppliers, are regulated and can only be obtained and used by a licensed member of the public. In addition to substances that are not regulated, there are others that may pose a threat. Sulphuric acid and acetone are examples of ‘reportable substances’. Acetone is used to clean bricks and driveways as well as drains.
The police Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321 should be contacted if you encounter suspicious transactions involving regulated or reportable substances. Several factors can make a transaction suspicious, such as when the customer insists on paying in cash and/or wants a product in unusually large quantities.
On Gov.uk, businesses can learn more about reportable and regulated substances.
Read more: Trends for the builders merchant sector
For the purpose of preventing the import and use of illegally harvested timber, any business that trades in timber and timber products must keep records for a period of five years that enable it to identify and trace the source of timber. On the Timber Trade Federation’s website, traders can find guidance on the requirements of the regulation.
Carrier bag charge
The charge for England is 5 pence, but small and medium-sized businesses (with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees) are exempt. The gov.uk website provides detailed guidance.
A single-use carrier bag must cost at least 5 pence in Wales and Scotland if it is provided by a retailer. There is no difference between plastic, paper or plant-based starch bags when it comes to single-use bags. You can find detailed guidance on the Zero Waste Scotland and Gov.Wales websites.
If a bag’s retail price is less than 20 pence, retailers are required to charge customers a 5 pence levy, regardless of whether the bag is single-use or reusable.
Health & safety, fire
Occupational health and safety laws and fire safety regulations must be followed.
Employment laws must be followed by anyone who employs staff. There are several important areas of legislation, including the following:
- Recruitment and employment contracts
- Pay and pensions
- Working time: hours, leave, flexible working
- Employment policies
- Sickness and sick pay
- Maternity, paternity and adoption
- Managing home workers, remote workers, lone workers
- Discipline and grievance
- Dismissals and redundancies
- Employment tribunals
Insurance for a builders merchant
Business insurance is essential when you start up. Explain your business model to an insurer. Afterwards, they will recommend the type of coverage you should have. The following might be included:
- Employer’s liability
- Public liability
- Product liability
- Premises, premises contents and stock
- Business interruption
- Motor fleet insurance (for delivery vehicles)
- Goods in transit
- Computers – all risks
You might be able to save money and get the level of coverage you need by joining some builders merchant buying groups and trade associations. BMF, for example, offers specialist business insurance policies to its members in partnership with insurers with expertise in the merchanting sector.
In conclusion, based on the nature of their business and the laws and regulations that are relevant to their industry, builders merchants may encounter a number of legal challenges. Compliance with consumer protection legislation, adherence to health and safety standards, and disagreements with suppliers or clients are a few examples.
Builders’ merchants should be aware of these legal concerns and take precautions to reduce risk and safeguard the company, such as keeping enough insurance coverage and abiding by all applicable rules and regulations.
Seasoned professional with a strong passion for the world of business finance. With over twenty years of dedicated experience in the field, my journey into the world of business finance began with a relentless curiosity for understanding the intricate workings of financial systems.