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What Are The Legal Requirements For Festivals?

Last Updated on January 25, 2023 by Mark Norman

If you’re asking this question, I’m going to guess that you have serious interest in running or promoting a festival. After 20 years in the events industry, we’ve had to deal with almost every type of legal requirement. 

But what type of festival and what are the legal requirements? In this short post, we explain which legislation you need to know about when planning your event.

The legal requirements for festivals vary. It depends on the type and the activities taking place as well as the country. Broadly legal requirements will fit into the following categories:

  • Licensing Law
  • Food & Hygiene Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Health and Safety Law
  • Copyright Law

For best practise, you should carry out due diligence for the legal requirements in the country or state that your festival operates. If you are unsure, then seek professional help or guidance from an expert in one of those fields.  The following pieces of legislation will apply to most festivals in the UK.

Licensing Law for Festivals

Licensing covers things like the sale of alcohol, public entertainment and late-night refreshment. All critical ingredients for most festivals so an important first consideration.

Within the UK, there are devolved government arrangements for Scotland and Northern Ireland licensing, so the requirements are slightly different to England and Wales.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, the primary piece of legislation is the Licensing Act 2003. There are two main components to this licencing law that you’ll need to understand before putting any festival on. The first component is a personal licence, and the second component is a premises licence. 

As the name suggests, a personal licence is held by an individual. That licence stays with them.

To gain a personal licence, you must undertake the relevant qualification then apply for the personal licence via a Local Authority Licensing department. A disclosure of conviction must also be submitted. Find out more on the UK Government website here

The current qualification requirements are a Level 2 Award for Personal Licence Holders. You can find more information on who provides these awards at the UK Government website here.

The venue you wish to host the festival in will require a license itself. This could either be a Premises License (which is semi-permanent) or a Temporary Event Notice.

A Premises Licence allows for licensable activities to take place at that venue. Licensable activities include the sale of alcohol and public entertainment, amongst other things.

A Temporary Event Notice has a slightly different application process and only applies to once event per time period.

See the UK government website here for more information on these.


In Scotland, the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 applies and is very similar to the England and Wales version with Personal and Premises Licenses. There are some subtle differences in terms of the licensing objectives that you should make yourself familiar. See the Scottish Government website here for further advice.

Food Safety Law

Food Safety is a crucial area for any festival as having a poor standard of food hygiene can lead to complaints or worst sick customers. This will do your reputation damage as well, so it is worth knowing what is required.

A couple of important pieces of law apply here, The Food Safety Act 1990 and The Food Standards Act 1999 that established the Food Standards Agency.

As a festival organiser, you have a responsibility to ensure the safety of your staff and customers. This is also referred to as a duty of care. You must, therefore, check the paperwork of any food vendors you book to attend. Sadly this does not involve any food tasting…!

The simplest way to do this is to check they have up-to-date:

  • Food Hygiene Certificates for staff and a
  • Food Hygiene Rating for their business. They should also have
  • Public and Employers Liability Insurance,
  • Registered with a local authority (doesn’t have to be yours)
  • Gas safety check documents (if using gas)
  • Electrical safety documents (Such as PAT tests)
  • Allergen Information

Environmental Law

Depending on the country the festival operates in there will be different environmental laws. However, there is a growing demand from attendees that festivals act in a responsible way towards their sustainability, including things like waste management. 

There are some specific standards, like the ISO 20121, which provides a complete planning system for sustainability at events. This includes considering sustainability at the planning, operational and evaluation phases. have a useful tool to help achieve ISO 20121.

In the UK, the Environmental Protection Act of 1990 encourages a duty of care on all businesses (that includes Festivals) to remove all waste. Remember, commercial waste is treated differently from the kind you dispose of domestically.

There are some great resources on A Greener Festival’s website to help understand how to improve sustainability at a festival including better waste management, traffic planning, noise, food and land damage.

Health and Safety Law

One of the most important pieces of legislation that you’ll need to adhere to is for health and safety. Sadly, history is littered with examples where poor judgement or poor implementation has led to the loss of life at large scale events.

The main piece of legislation is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which requires all festival operators to consider and manage the safety of their staff and visitors or customers coming to the event.

Another critical piece of legislation that you should be aware of is the Management of Health and Safety At Work Regulations 1999, which requires you to undertake risk assessments to assess the hazards at your festival.

The Noise at Work Regulations 2006 require you to undertake a risk assessment for any loud noise on your site. If you’re running a music festival, this is especially important, and you’ll need to understand what the requirements are to ensure the safety of staff, performers and customers.

There are some other pieces of legislation worth looking at, below is a list to start from (Links are to the most suitable resource):

Not all will apply to the activities being undertaking at the festival so seek professional advice if unsure. We recommend the team at Hop Forward Training who offer beginner Event Safety courses as well as safety consultancy for events of all sizes.

Intellectual property / Copyright

Intellectual property might not be an obvious area someone would consider when thinking about festivals. However, it is extremely important.

First of all, you will want to protect the assets such as your brand name, logos. Protecting your brand becomes important when a festival grows and attracts copycats or people who would try to trade in your name for their own benefit. 

The other area to consider is music licensing.

If you are playing any recorded music at your event (including DJ sets), then you will need to consider getting a license so you can do that legally.

Playing recorded music to employees or customers is illegal in the UK without the correct permission. 

In the UK, Festivals can apply for TheMusicLicense. The amount you pay will be dependent on the venue you are using and how you are using the music.

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