What are London busking rules? Council ponders new regulations for Covent Garden

Lucy North/PA Wire (PA)
Lucy North/PA Wire (PA)

Westminster councillors met this week to discuss how they would make sure Covent Garden street performers comply with a regulatory licensing system.

One hundred members of The Covent Garden Street Performers Association (CGSPA) have not been following the licensing system which came into effect in 2021, saying they are being driven off the street by red tape.

The council have insisted they seek to “strike a balance between supporting performers and addressing the issues of excessive noise, overcrowding, and inappropriate locations”.

Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities and Public Protection, Aicha Less, said: "The busking and street entertainment policy was introduced two years ago to preserve the tradition of live street entertainment in Westminster, which is hugely popular with visitors to the city, and to ensure busking and street entertainment operates in a safe and responsible way."

However, Less added: "The council’s licensing committee met on December 4 to discuss options to tweak the existing policy. A ban on busking has never been proposed and never will be."

What are London busking rules?

London tends to be very accommodating to buskers with its vibrant music scene, and its centuries-old locations for performances.

Those able to perform must usually be older than 14, but other requirements should be observed to avoid legal issues, and they generally depend on the council people are based in. Specific requirements can be found on the Government website, though generally tend to be listed as follows:

  • making an application form;

  • a relevant application fee;

  • having photographic ID;

  • a certificate of public liability insurance exceeding £2million (for Westminster at least);

  • declaration of right to work in the UK;

  • a description of performance activity and a description of any instruments or other equipment that may be used during the performance

Meanwhile, byelaws will include not making too much noise, blocking public highways, displaying notices asking for a payment or street trading - and only busking in certain parts of town for a limited period of time.

At London tube stations, licenced buskers have acquired success, attracting audiences of 3.5 million Tube passengers daily, according to Transport for London (TfL). They include Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Bob Geldof and Katherine Jenkins who have all performed in the underground at some stage. TfL recently commemorated 20 years of its live busking scheme in November. Auditions for the new year will take place in early 2024 for Busk in London, a programme supported by the Mayor of London.

How will busking rules change?

Westminster's Labour-run council’s proposals to crack down on current busking expectations will see a public consultation launched in Westminster between January 8 to March 18 next year.

Proposals may include banned amps in certain areas, reducing the number of buskers entertaining at one time and designating individuals pitch locations.

Moreover, performers could be charged a licensing fee between £20 and £30, with a discount for students.