Operating online auctions in the UK during Covid-19


The UK’s Health Protection Regulations of March 2020 include auction houses in the list of businesses that are required to close. We wholeheartedly support the national effort to combat Covid-19 and naturally we have been contacted by many auctioneers wanting to understand the implications of the new government regulations.

As the UK enters its third week of government-sanctioned shutdown measures, we would like to take this opportunity to provide an update on measures that the auction industry is taking to manage in the current situation.

What the law says

It is our understanding that the legislation targets traditional public auctions rather than online-only sales where social distancing can be adhered to at all times. eBay and other online-only auction providers continue to operate.

Multiple auctioneers have told us that local councils have permitted them to run auctions once they realise they are online-only and we have supported some auction houses in their communications with local authorities around this to enable sales to continue online-only. We encourage auctioneers to speak with their local councils about this and are happy to provide you with supporting information.

How auction houses are coping

Each auction house must determine how it feels about running online-only auctions. As the government wants to minimise disruption to the UK economy, it seems to be allowing many sorts of online-only activity where social distancing can be respected.  We will work with auction houses to ensure we all remain 100% compliant with both the letter and spirit of the law.

In the arts & antiques and industrial & commercial sectors many are finding ways to adapt responsibly within the law by switching to a timed or live online-only formula, broadcasting sales on the internet from empty buildings or auctioneers’ own homes, and ensuring social distancing measures are respected at all times, including during delivery.

For many auction businesses – especially in the industrial and commercial sector – operating online-only and timed auctions is nothing new and many have had systems in place for some time that allow for very little contact between individuals. One thing they all reiterate is the importance of giving the buyer confidence in what they are purchasing and making the process easy for them when bidding online.

Making it easy for the bidder

With the importance of buyer confidence in mind, a number of auctioneers are going the extra mile to get the best out of their online-only auctions in the current situation by:

• increasing the number of photos per lot;

• providing remote viewing via video calls as a replacement for physically viewing lots;

• using our payments solution which allows auction houses to take payments online and remotely;

• using a ‘no contact’ delivery service. Our delivery partner Mail Boxes Etc has a ‘no contact’ delivery solution;

• providing generous terms for storage.

As always, we urge auctioneers and bidders to get in touch if they have any questions relating to the current situation.

You will also find the latest updates on the impact of Covid-19 and inspiring stories about how the industry is adapting in the Antiques Trade Gazette.

Finally we would like to extend our very best wishes to all auctioneers, their families and their staff, and to all bidders, at this difficult time.


John‑Paul Savant, CEO of ATG

Richard Lewis, COO of ATG