Guidance

Primary Authority: a guide for businesses

Businesses can partner with a local authority for advice on how to comply with trading standards, environmental health and fire safety legislation.

To join Primary Authority, please read this guide then either:

If you manage a trade association, franchise or group whose members share an approach to regulatory compliance, please read Primary Authority: a guide for trade associations.

Primary Authority allows your business to form a legal partnership with a local authority (known as the primary authority). Your primary authority can provide you with assured, consistent regulatory advice that makes it simpler and easier to comply with environmental health, trading standards and fire safety legislation. Enforcing authorities should respect this advice when regulating your business.

Participating in Primary Authority can give your business greater confidence in your regulated activities and reduce your risk of contravening legislation. Provided that you follow the advice you are given, you can be confident that you are complying with the law.

Primary Authority can also help businesses that operate as part of a group, such as franchisees or members of a trade association.

Types of business partnership

There are two ways for your business to participate in Primary Authority:

  • your business can form its own partnership with a local authority – this is called a direct partnership
  • your business can be a member of a trade association or other group with a primary authority – this is called a co-ordinated partnership

Any business can participate in Primary Authority, whether it’s an established business or just starting out. A business can choose what type of primary authority best meets its needs.

Direct partnerships can work well for businesses that:

  • have complex needs best addressed through tailored advice
  • operate across a number of local authority areas
  • spend significant time and resource on their compliance activities
  • would benefit from having a single point of contact with a local authority

Businesses with simpler regulatory requirements may benefit from joining similar businesses in a co-ordinated partnership, which is managed on their behalf by a co-ordinator.

This guide focuses on direct partnerships.

Primary Authority Advice

Your primary authority can provide your business with reliable regulatory advice that’s tailored to your business circumstances. Enforcing authorities should respect this advice when regulating your business.

Primary Authority Advice can help your business understand:

  • how legal requirements apply to you
  • how you can achieve compliance
  • whether the controls you have in place are acceptable

Primary Authority Advice is assured, which means that provided that you abide by the advice you are given, you won’t need to follow conflicting advice from other sources. Your business should be protected against the risk of enforcement action from enforcing authorities that have different views on what you should be doing to achieve compliance.

Your primary authority can involve relevant supporting regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive or the Food Standards Agency in the development of Primary Authority Advice.

Primary Authority Advice is made available to enforcing officers using the secure online service that supports the operation of Primary Authority, the Primary Authority Register.

Inspection plans

Your primary authority can provide you with an inspection plan that will govern the way your business is inspected by enforcing officers from any local authority.

An inspection plan sets out how enforcing officers should undertake inspection activity at your business. Enforcing officers should check the Primary Authority Register to see whether an inspection plan exists for your business before they visit.

If your primary authority decides to create an inspection plan for the business, it must be approved by the Secretary of State before being made available to enforcing officers via the Primary Authority Register. The primary authority will also consult supporting regulators where necessary.

Discuss with your primary authority whether an inspection plan might be appropriate for your business and how it could be used.

Primary authorities can seek the support of specified supporting regulators in relation to the provision of Primary Authority Advice or the development and management of an inspection plan.

Enforcement action

Provided that your business follows the Primary Authority Advice you’ve been given, you should not face enforcement action from an enforcing authority that has a different view on whether compliance is being achieved. An enforcing authority has to establish that your business hasn’t followed its Primary Authority Advice before it can take enforcement action against you.

An enforcing authority has to notify your primary authority if it intends to take enforcement action against you. Your primary authority can block the enforcement action if it conflicts with Primary Authority Advice you have been given. There are some limited exemptions from this requirement to notify proposed action, for example where urgent action is required.

You can get more detailed information about Primary Authority and enforcement action by reading the statutory guidance.

Step by step guide to setting up a partnership

Follow these steps to set up a direct Primary Authority partnership for your business.

Step 1 – Choose the areas of regulation in which you would like the support of a primary authority

Primary Authority covers the following areas of regulation:

  • environmental health
  • trading standards
  • fire safety

Your partnership doesn’t need to address all regulatory aspects of your business, just the ones you want support with. If your primary authority isn’t able to cover all the areas of regulation you require, you can find an additional partner to meet your needs. You can have more than one primary authority.

If your business trades in both England and Wales you may wish to consider having a primary authority in both nations for areas of legislation that are devolved to the Welsh Government.

Step 2 – Find potential partners

It’s up to you which primary authority you choose to partner with. You could choose a partner that’s located near your business headquarters, or that you already have a good working relationship with, or that specialises in regulatory areas relevant to you.

Step 3 – Agree the scope of the relationship and how it will be managed

Once you have identified a prospective partner, it’s important to express what you expect from the relationship. Make sure that you discuss the following:

  • what you expect to get out of the partnership
  • what the objectives are, and how both parties will work together to achieve them
  • which regulatory areas you need the partnership to cover
  • how you’ll communicate
  • how regularly you intend to meet with one another and whether these meetings need to be formal or informal
  • what kind of Primary Authority Advice you need
  • whether you require an inspection plan
  • whether any supporting regulator should be consulted, for example the Health and Safety Executive and Food Standards Agency
  • who main contacts will be for both parties
  • whether your business trades in more than one nation of the UK
  • how the costs will be structured, and what the overall cost will be
  • the Primary Authority terms and conditions

This discussion will inform your summary of partnership arrangements, which is an agreement covering how you and your primary authority intend to run the partnership.

Step 4 – Agree costs and payment terms

Your primary authority may charge enough to cover its costs but cannot make a profit. The cost of your partnership will depend on how much work your primary authority does for you.

When you start talking to a local authority about forming a partnership, you should discuss what you need them to do for you and how much this might cost.

Some primary authorities will offer to perform fixed services for a fixed fee they have agreed with you in advance, or they may offer to work with you on a cost-per-hour basis.

Step 5 – Work with your primary authority to nominate the partnership

Your primary authority will start an online application in the Primary Authority Register. You will then receive an email inviting you to log on to the Register and complete the application. This sets out basic information about your business and the kind of relationship you wish to have with your primary authority.

When you have completed the application it is received by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPS&S), which checks the form and arranges for nomination by the Secretary of State. Once that’s confirmed, you’ll be notified by email and your partnership will appear on the Primary Authority Register.

Step 6 – Make sure that details are kept up to date when things change

Work with your partner to keep details updated in the Primary Authority Register. For example, if the regulated person for your business changes, the Register will need to be updated.

The Primary Authority Register

The Primary Authority Register is a secure online service that supports the operation of Primary Authority partnerships.

It includes a Public Register that can be used to check the names of businesses and co-ordinators in partnerships, along with the names of their primary authorities.

Enforcement officers can log into the secure area of the Register to find out further details about Primary Authority partnerships, including whether any Primary Authority Advice and inspection plans have been issued to businesses they are inspecting.

You can use the Public Register to check which businesses and co-ordinators are using Primary Authority.

Working groups

A number of working groups managed by OPS&S help shape the future development of Primary Authority.

Working groups draw upon the experience and insight of businesses, co-ordinators and local authorities presently working in partnership. Current working groups include the Primary Authority User Group (PAUG) and Primary Authority Supermarkets Group (PASG).

What next?

You can find more detailed information about Primary Authority by reading the statutory guidance.

Published 1 October 2017