Guide to Compliance for Small Businesses

Posted by

Matt Green

on 24 Aug 2023


Compliance regulations exist to protect businesses, their staff, property and, importantly, their customers. Learn which areas matter most for small businesses.

small businesses compliance

It is important for small businesses to take compliance seriously. By understanding the key compliance issues that are applicable and taking steps to comply with them, small businesses can avoid costly fines, penalties, and legal action.

In larger businesses, there is often a dedicated member of staff dealing with training and recording-keeping. But Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) rarely have that luxury, meaning the Office Manager or CEO has to cover the responsibilities.

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Main compliance areas for small businesses

Focusing on a few key areas can quickly reduce your risk of breaches.

1. Data protection

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a comprehensive piece of legislation that sets out strict rules for how businesses can collect, store, and use personal data. It is vital that customers trust that you will protect their personal information and not misuse it.

Fines are related to how serious an offence is and how many individuals it affects. So, a simple error affecting many customers can lead to a hefty fine.

In addition, many small businesses take card payments, meaning PCI DSS compliance is important. If your business isn't compliant and there's a data breach, your bank provider could pass these fines onto you or terminate your business bank account entirely, as you are seen as posing a significant risk of leaking customer data.

More on Small Business GDPR

2. Employment law

The UK has a complex set of employment laws that govern everything from pay and conditions to discrimination and whistleblowing.

Small businesses must comply with these laws to avoid legal action from employees that could result in financial penalties and reputational damage. Consequently, it may also hamper your ability to recruit new staff.

By staying up-to-date with relevant laws, such as those pertaining to minimum wage, overtime, anti-discrimination, and workplace safety, small businesses safeguard their reputation and foster a culture of trust and professionalism among their workforce.

More on SMEs & Employment Law

3. Health & safety

Small businesses have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers. Many are obvious, like fire safety and DSE, but the rules are much more complex in industries like construction because of heightened risks.

This includes providing a safe working environment, carrying out risk assessments, and training employees on health and safety procedures. Small businesses that cultivate a culture of safety foster higher employee morale, reduce absenteeism, and enhance their reputation.

More on Small Business H&S

4. Tax

Small businesses must comply with various tax laws, including income tax, corporation tax, and VAT. Failure to comply with tax laws could result in penalties and interest charges.

In heavily regulated industries like finance, it may result in a firm's staff not being licensed to offer certain services.

5. Anti-money laundering

Small businesses dealing with cash or other financial transactions must comply with anti-money laundering regulations. These regulations are designed to prevent criminals from using businesses to launder money.

By adhering to AML requirements, SMEs can establish trust and credibility with customers, partners, and financial institutions, which is crucial for sustainable growth.

More on Small Business AML

6. Industry-specific regulations

In addition to these key compliance issues, small businesses may need to comply with other regulations specific to their industry or sector.

For example, businesses that sell food or alcohol must comply with food safety regulations, and businesses that operate in the financial services sector must comply with financial regulations.

It is important for small businesses to take compliance seriously. By understanding the key compliance issues that apply to their business and taking steps to comply, small businesses can avoid costly fines, penalties, and legal action.

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Small business compliance tips

  • Get expert advice: If you are unsure about a compliance issue, it is important to get expert advice from a lawyer or accountant.
  • Create a compliance plan: A compliance plan is a document that outlines the steps your business will take to comply with all applicable laws and regulations.
  • Assign responsibilities: Ensure someone in your business is responsible for each area of compliance. This may be a legal requirement in many instances, like data protection and money laundering.
  • Monitor your compliance: It is important to regularly monitor your compliance to ensure that you still meet all applicable requirements. This may be ongoing or conducted via scheduled compliance audits.
  • Keep records: You need to keep records of all your compliance activities, such as risk assessments, training records, and incident reports. They are vital in avoiding repeating the same mistakes and showing authorities mitigation for fines.

By following these tips, small businesses can stay compliant and avoid non-compliance reputational and financial risks.

Need help with SME compliance?

Small business best practice tips for data protection, employment law, money laundering, taxation, and health and safety can be found in our blog.

Our series of comprehensive roadmaps help you navigate the compliance landscape and are supported by e-learning courses in our Basic Plan.

We also have 100+ free compliance training aids, including assessments, best practice guides, checklists, desk aids, eBooks, games, posters, training presentations and even e-learning modules!

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Small businesses in the UK spend over £5,000 per annum to comply with all the regulations. The cost is several times higher in certain sectors, such as financial services.

Our Basic Plan will help you lighten this load with your own compliance portal pre-loaded with the key compliance e-learning courses relevant to your industry sector.

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