How to stay legal at car boot fairs

‘Each season has its joys to treasure, to lift one’s spirits and bring us pleasure.’ – Anon.


The advent of spring heralds two particular joys for me: the start of another Formula One Motor Racing season, along with the beginning of the open-air car boot season.

Both quite diverse subjects, I grant you.

Technically, we have a couple of weeks to go before spring is upon us – 20 March being the Vernal Equinox, when both the day and the night are approximately 12 hours long.

But as far as I am concerned, once we have entered the month of March, everything starts to look spring-like!

Leaving aside the advent of the F1 Season, as I have yet to find a way to profit from this rather costly pastime, I would like to focus on car boot fairs.

It would be easy and somewhat obvious for me to start listing the best items to both buy and sell at these venues… and indeed I will.

But before that, I wanted to set make sure that those considering loading up their boots with all and sundry over the next few weeks with the intention of selling understand all the legal implications.

Are you really a trader?

Here’s a potted guide, so you might be able to discern whether you are indeed a trader or not – and if so, what are the implications?

When considering whether you are a trader or not, you will need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are the goods you’re selling your personal property? If not, and you buy goods in specially to resell – for example, from newspaper adverts or a cash and carry – you are very likely a trader.
  • Do you attend boot sales regularly – once every couple of months or more? If so, you are likely to be a trader, even if boot sales are not a major source of income.
  • Do you employ anyone to help you with sales? If so, you are probably a trader.
  • Do you sell similar goods at other venues – e.g. markets, in the street or from home? If so, you are almost certainly a trader.
  • How much of your income is derived from participation in car boot sales and for what percentage of your income does it account?

A quick glance at this list should very quickly place you either on one side of the ‘trader fence’, or the other.

Your legal obligations if you are a trader:

  • Inform the Inland Revenue – You are obliged as a trader to inform the Inland Revenue. Depending upon their assessment of your overall personal situation, you will most likely be required to register as ‘Self Employed’ and be required to pay tax on your overall annual profits.
  • Clearly display your trading name – You are legally required to clearly display your trading name to your prospective customers, not only on your stand, but also on your paperwork.
  • Make sure goods for sale are safe – This includes toys, electrical goods, cosmetics, upholstered furniture and clothing.
  • Your items for sale must all be clearly labelled.
  • You cannot restrict buyers’ rights – Signs such as ‘no refunds’ are a breach of Unfair Trading Regulations.
  • You cannot make false claims about goods for sale – You must be honest about the authenticity, origin and quality of goods.
  • Foods should be properly labelled and hygiene standards observed – Trading Standards officers are very hot in enforcing these rules.

Your obligations if you are NOT a trader…

If you are genuinely NOT a trader, then the controls of consumer law do not affect you quite so much.

However, you should still be sensibly discrete in the following areas:

  • Correctly describe your goods – Incorrectly described goods will require you to refund your customer, or reduce the price to their satisfaction.
  • Items to avoid selling. These items all have their own individual safety standards:
  • Electric fires, blankets and irons.
  • Out of date food/cans.
  • Flammable clothing, e.g. nightwear.
  • Cosmetic products with broken seals.
  • Toys with sharp point or small parts.
  • Oil or paraffin heaters.
  • Prams & pushchairs.
  • Stolen goods (obviously!)

Next week I will delve deeper and reveal some of the more unusual/original items which I see private people successfully selling at car boot fairs.

We’ll talk again then.

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