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A pedlar's licence: who needs it and what is it for?

Everything you need to know about getting the right licence when you’re selling goods from a van or door to door

If you're thinking of setting up a business where you can sell on the move, you'll want to be prepared – including having the correct paperwork in place. Here's a summary of what you need to know.

What is a pedlar's licence?

Officially known as a pedlar's certificate, this document allows a business to trade on an itinerant basis. That means that they should stay on the move, except while actually selling to customers.

For example, if you sell handicrafts, you can stop long enough to make items to order, but can't stay in one spot for a long period. Licenses are issued under the Pedlars Act 1871 and are valid if you're selling physical products or for handicrafts. 

The law states that you must be on foot, though you can pull a trolley.

How do you get a pedlar's certificate?

You must be aged 17 or over to be eligible and you must have lived in the local area for the last 28 days. They are issued by the police, not by local councils, so you'll need to visit your nearest police station, which will provide you with an application form.

They will want to see two passport photos and proof of ID and address. You'll also need to give details of a referee. A certificate lasts for a year and costs only £12.25, so it's a small price to pay for peace of mind.

What types of businesses need one?

People who make a living selling goods or handicrafts door to door need a pedlar's certificate to make sure that they're operating legally. Another class of businesses that can benefit includes food and drink sellers that sell from a van or in the open air – for example ice cream vendors or chestnut roasters. Find out more about the rules governing these operations at the Pedlar Information & Resource Centre.

Are there any alternatives?

One option is a street trader's licence, which allows you to sell from a fixed spot without being on the move all the time. However, the application process is more complex and your licence will only be valid within one council area.

It's also expensive – some councils charge several thousand pounds for a street trader's licence – making it unaffordable for many small-scale sellers. The pedlar's certificate, being valid anywhere in the country and so much cheaper, is likely to be a better option for truly mobile businesses.

What problems can licensed pedlars face?

Some local councils may try to disrupt the activities of lawful pedlars. They may wrongly claim that pedlars have to be registered with each council like street traders. You should stand your ground and politely explain your legal position.

In some areas, pedlars have a poor reputation owing to the activities of unlicensed or unscrupulous sellers. Again, it's best to be friendly and open; your reputation will quickly grow once word gets around that you are reliable.

Although the licences themselves have a handful of restrictions that apply across the country, you may also find that the area you wish to trade in has their own trade restrictions. For instance, a handful of areas across London can’t be traded across. These restrictions fall under private Acts of Parliament, and disobeying these laws could land you with a prison sentence, or a £200 fine.

How can I find out more?

Apply for your license through your local police station contact office, and to avoid the risk of breaking any laws, speak with the local authority to discover any restrictions.  



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