UK Law & Regulation Regarding Tarot, Divination and Witchcraft

On this page we reproduce our information originally published in Tarosophy (2011) by Marcus Katz on the current legislation in the United Kingdom concerning tarot, divination and witchcraft as trade. It was written by Anne Davies, a qualified solicitor, and whilst informative, is not to be considered absolute legal advice. We would advise regular checking of regulations in your area if you intend to trade as a tarot reader or similar.

Please do not copy text from this page but you are encouraged to provide a link to it, as we keep it updated here should we be informed of any changes to the regulations.

Our information on the equally important and relevant advertising regulations for tarot in the UK are HERE.

A Brief History of UK Law as it Applies to Tarot, Divination, Fortune-Telling & Witchcraft

Whilst the terms may be conflated, the actual law as it applies to tarot was covered by two laws, one under the more obvious Witchcraft Act (1542) and the other snuck into the Vagrancy Act (1824) where “every person pretending or professing to tell fortunes, or using any subtle craft, means, or device, by palmistry or otherwise, to deceive and impose on any of his Majesty’s subjects” was also liable under that act.

BOTH of these laws (as far as we can tell) are now repealed. The only current law applying to tarot readers and witchcraft is that same law applying to all trade and business, under the Consumer Protection Regulations (2008) which do not specify or mention tarot, witchcraft, etc.

The Witchcraft Act (1542) was repealed in 1736, replaced by a law against practising “magical powers”. This in turn was repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951). This was the law that was then repealed by the Consumer Protection Regulations (2008).

You can read the UK governments official position on “Witchcraft” here.


Anne’s disclaimer: I am a qualified solicitor who is admitted to the Supreme Court of England and Wales. This means that I don’t know much about Scottish Law (it’s a different legal system). I work in the field of private client law and do a little bit from lots of areas of law. I dabble in tarot cards on the side, and am setting out down the road of reading professionally.

As I say above, I’m no substitute for specific legal advice about your specific situation, and if you do some form of reading I’m not familiar with (which is practically anything other than tarot), then you should consult someone who does know about that type of reading.

Consumer Protection Regulations 2008 – Guidance

This advice relates to the recent enactment of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This is now the law in the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of talk on internet forums and websites regarding the new regulations which came into force on 26 May 2008.

Much has been made by various news sources of ‘they should have seen it coming’. A typical article goes on to describe how spiritualism and such assorted practices are being ‘persecuted’, and how mediums will be obliged to ‘disavow their religion’ by claiming that everything they do is unproven, must be regarded as ‘an experiment’ or should be regarded as ‘for entertainment purposes only’. There has even been talk about how this can be seen as religious discrimination, and a ‘return to the dark ages’. Many of the articles heavily imply that these new regulations specifically outlaw spiritualism, fortune telling and psychic services.

This is a relatively obscure piece of legislation, introduced because the European Union says so, which had its nod through parliament and was introduced without much fanfare. If particular bodies had not gone running to every newspaper and broadcast media outlet they could find (including BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and Radio 2’s Lunchtime with Jeremy Vine) then we might suggest that the awareness of this ‘new law’ would be much lower than it now is; tarot readers and other associated readers would not be in a panic, and the newspapers would not have reported hysteria-based scare-mongering as ‘fact’. Read some or all of the articles below for a flavour of what’s been said and then, if you are really keen, Google ‘Consumer protection regulations 2008 fortune tellers’ and see how similar many of the results are. One word of caution: watch out for the Australian items, they seem to have brought in something similar and have taken a similar approach!

‘Fortune-tellers targeted in new Consumer Protection Regulations’:

‘There may be trouble ahead’ :

‘Consumer protection laws overhaul to stem unfair practices’:

‘New rules for consumer protection’:

What virtually all of these articles state as a ‘fact’ is that ‘all spiritualists and fortune tellers will be obliged to say that their work is “for entertainment purposes only”’ (or similar wording). This just isn’t true. I’ve read the regulations very carefully, more than once, and I can’t see anything about this. I cannot find anything which specifically or implicitly refers to mediums, spiritualists or tarot readers.

As with much legislation these days, rather than deal with ONE thing in ONE act, many things have been lumped together and dealt with via a ‘broad brush’ approach. Trying to read the legislation is confusing: you have to try to cross-reference to several other parts of the legislation in order to be able to attempt to understand what it is that is actually being outlawed.

One thing which does strike me is that ‘commercial practices’, which are the entire focus of the regulations, are taken to include the supply of a service, whether or not a commercial transaction occurred. My interpretation of this is that a free tarot reading service could potentially be included within that definition.

Of the 31 practices specifically outlawed within the legislation, the two which are most ‘relevant’ to ourselves are number 17: ‘Falsely claiming that a product is able to cure illnesses, dysfunction or malformations’ and number 20: ‘Describing a product as gratis, free, without charge or similar if the consumer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to the commercial practice and collecting or paying for delivery of the item’. These two provisions are plainly aimed at those people who either advertise offering to cure you of a curse or bad luck, or who send you junk mail offering bits of tat which have been ‘blessed by the saints’, or whatever the current line is, for only a ‘processing fee’ of a frankly eye-watering amount of money (think £25 and upwards).

It is important to note that when they talk about ‘product’ they also include ‘service’ within the definition of ‘product’. I cannot see how an honest tarot reader, who stressed to all querents that tarot can’t run their lives for them, and that they are responsible for their own decisions, could be held liable under this.

So, what does the Government have to say about all this? I suggest that you spend ten minutes or so reading the below linked leaflet, published by the Office of Fair Trading. It should alleviate most fears:

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations: a basic guide for business

You may also, if you have a particularly fierce bout of insomnia, wish to read the regulations themselves. The best publicly available link I can find to these is below, and they are still labelled as ‘draft’. Please be assured that nothing is different in the enacted version.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008

A response from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to an email from a tarot reader, published on the internet, said:

“Thank you for your e-mail about the repeal of the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 and the new legislation that replaces it.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs), which came into force on 26 May, put in place a comprehensive framework for dealing with sharp business practices and rogue traders harming the economic interests of consumers. The regulations set out broad rules outlining when commercial practices are unfair. These fall into four main categories:

1. A general ban on conduct below a level which may be expected towards consumers (honest market practice / good faith). This is intended to act as ‘safety net’ protection for consumers.

2. Misleading practices such as through the provision of false or deceptive messages or by omitting important information that consumers need to make informed choices.

3. Aggressive sales techniques that use harassment, coercion or undue influence.

4. 31 specific practices are banned outright.

For a practice to be unfair under the first three categories it must harm, or be likely to harm, the economic interests of consumers. Where a person pays to have a tarot reading knowing full well what he is buying we think this is unlikely to be unfair. This is because the consumer would not have been misled into taking a transactional decision he would not otherwise have taken.

The CPRs are not directly concerned with the quality of the goods or services provided, e.g. the accuracy of a tarot reading, to which other longstanding legislation applies. They are mainly concerned with the way traders advertise and market their goods and services to consumers. Provided this is not misleading we do not believe tarot readers will need to give disclaimers saying that the reading is for ‘entertainment purposes only’.

The CPRs are enforced by the Office of Fair Trading and local authority Trading Standards Services. These enforcers have limited resources and will focus their enforcement work on unfair practices causing significant consumer detriment. However, where an enforcer brings enforcement action for a breach of the regulations it will need to prove the facts of the case.

The CPRs do not give individuals a private law right of civil redress where they have been harmed by an unfair practice. The regulations therefore make no changes to the existing law of contract or tort, or the burden of proof in such cases.”

So, in essence, as long as you aren’t door-stepping old ladies and insisting that they pay you £50 for a one card reading lasting 90 seconds “or else you will be cursed forever and your house will fall down,” then we should all be fine. Does anyone honestly approach people and ask if they’d like to pay for a tarot reading? I suspect what happens is that we set ourselves up quietly somewhere at a ‘festival’, put some fliers out and sit there and wait for the clients to come to us. Some of us may have websites offering our services, or adverts in local newspapers. I don’t know any reputable tarot readers who use aggressive sales techniques.


If you are still worried that someone’s going to leap out in front of you one day and slap a summons on you (which, if you’ve read all of the above, you will know is highly unlikely), then what can you do to protect yourself?

1. Join a ‘reputable’ organisation. The Tarosophy Tarot Association was founded to ensure that tarot readers and clients were well informed and reputable.

2. Get a qualification. There are no formal qualifications or certificates in Tarot reading, but you can be certified for completing a range of courses, such as the 2-year Hekademia tarot course offered by Tarot Professionals. Alternatively you might want to consider a qualification or short course in a related field such as counselling, business management (for those reading full-time / professionally), therapy techniques, or perhaps neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).

3. Use a disclaimer. A controversial suggestion; there’s no guarantee that a disclaimer would work, you’re potentially creating a lot of paperwork for yourself and, as a lawyer, I find it astonishing that clients just don’t read what I give them to sign – how many clients will actually read the disclaimer?

4. Assess the client. There’s a big difference between “Should I dump my boyfriend?” and “I’m not sure where my relationship with my boyfriend is going, can the cards offer any advice?” The first wants you to tell her what to do, the second wants some insight. The first is more likely (in my opinion) to report you to Trading Standards depending upon ‘what the cards tell her’. Spend a few minutes giving them a ‘verbal disclaimer’. When I do free readings for people via email, the second paragraph states that the cards cannot tell them what to do, but can offer advice and insight into the possible outcome of the path of life they currently find themselves on. I go on to emphasise that they can change their path themselves at any time. You should assess whether the person sat in front of you has the ability to think for themselves. Obviously this can be a very hard call, but the question they ask should give you a good lead into this. If you are wary about the client (and rely on your intuition here), you can always refuse to read. Better to turn down a client and leave them a bit upset than to take the money and open yourself up to aggravation.

5. Only read for one person at a time. If ‘Sandra’ has a question, only have Sandra in the room when you answer, not Sandra and four of her mates. Obviously, if you’re reading for a couple then there is an exception, but generally, ‘hangers on’ will not be helpful.

6. Make a note of your readings. Even if it’s only a book with some columns you fill in such as ‘date’, ‘time’, ‘client’s name’, ‘number of cards used’, ‘question asked’ (and possibly not even as detailed as that), then this all goes to show that you are reputable.

7. Have a flyer. This should contain your details, and a post-reading ‘disclaimer’. Something along the lines of ‘I hope you enjoyed your reading today. Please remember that the cards cannot tell you what to do in life, and you must take responsibility for your own actions, inactions and the decisions you take in life’.

8. Be squeaky clean. Even if you’re only doing one event a year and making virtually nothing in ‘profit’, be above board. Have insurance in place. As a rough guide you’ll need public liability and almost certainly professional indemnity. If you read from your home (i.e. clients come to your house) then you should tell your house insurer. If you have a vehicle and you use it to get to places where you do readings, tell your insurer. It is likely that any increase in premium will be only slight, but if you have told them, then you are fine. If you don’t and then have to claim, you may well find them refusing to pay out – even if the claim is nothing to do with your tarot reading business.

9. Sort out your tax and National Insurance (NI) NI position. HM Revenue & Customs provide a tremendous amount of help for new businesses. Yes, you will have to complete a self-assessment tax return, but as long as you’ve kept adequate paperwork you’ll be fine. If you are reading on a small scale basis you’ll be able to do the ‘short’ return, and you will be able to claim a very wide range of expenses to offset any tax liability. You’ll also need to pay NI, unless you earn less than whatever is the current amount for the threshold. Yes, there are many forms to fill in, and yes, it will be boring, but set aside an evening in June to sort it all out and it’ll be fine – if you get your return in early they’ll even work out the tax for you. If you’re a serious full-time tarot reader then you might want to employ an accountant to sort all this out for you.

From anecdotes I read, you stand a much greater chance of a disgruntled client reporting you to HM Revenue & Customs than you do of them reporting you to Trading Standards – get in there first!

10. Consider working through an agency. The advantage of this is that not only will the agent vet you, but they’ll probably also carry out some due diligence on the client. This sort of work is more likely to be at the corporate and ‘light-weight’ end of things, but I hear that the money can be very good. The disadvantage is that the agent will take a cut of your fees, and may even tell you how much you’re going to be paid, rather than you setting how much you’d like to charge.

11. Tape readings. Again, this is highly controversial. Some readers won’t; some get very nervous about speaking into any sort of machine; some are worried about something they may say within a reading getting taken out of context if listened to again at a later date. Consensus seems to be that if you are going to go down this path, it should be either via a digital format and both you and the client get a copy, or you should retain the ‘tape’ for yourself and not let the client have it at all. [Also, check whether you require registration under the Information Commissioner’s Office [ICO] Data Protection Act]

12. Use your discretion. If an event doesn’t want ‘hippy lunatic tarot readers’, don’t force yourself onto them. I know we’re not doing anything wrong, and most of us aren’t doing anything that could even be described as ‘occult’, but some people get very anxious about these sorts of things, and before you know where you are, there’s banners and protests and letters to the editor of the local newspaper. Be upfront with an organiser of any event, and if they think you won’t fit in, don’t bother. Do you really want the hassle of a hostile reception? Let someone else fight the battle and go back when you will be accepted.

In summary, my advice is not to panic. An individual member of the public cannot sue you for a ‘bad reading’. The worst they can do is report you to Trading Standards. Unless you have a particularly forceful local Trading Standards Officer, who has a particular hatred / fear of tarot readers and their crafts, then you should be fine. If you take your time to understand and read the regulations and ensure that you are a reputable dealer who isn’t taking advantage of clients, then you should be fine.

This advice is based upon my understanding of the law at the time of writing (August 2008). The regulations are, as far as I can tell, currently untested, i.e. no-one has as yet been taken to court by Trading Standards for breaching the requirements of the regulations. As such, you should apply your own common sense and knowledge of the regulations. You should at least read the OFT leaflet so that you are aware of your obligations. This advice is not a substitute for specific legal advice in relation to your specific problem or situation. If you are unsure about what you should do, then you should seek professional legal advice from your own solicitor. If you don’t have a solicitor, look on the Law Society website for your territory, for ‘commercial’ lawyers in your area.