Shotgun licence renewal.

Face-to-face interviews may be a thing of the past for thousands of shooters renewing their licences, after three police forces in the Home Counties announced cost-cutting measures.

A joint initiative from Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Police will introduce “a risk assessed process, where enhanced intelligence checks will identify those who should receive a home visit”.

Essex Police plans to deal with all gun licence renewals by post.

Mike Yardley, spokesman for the Shooting Sports Trust, was critical of the forces’ plans: “This news will be of great concern to many in the shooting community. We feel, with some qualifications, that the current system works well. The UK has one of the lowest rates of armed crime in the world. The idea that routine face-to-face checks between police and shooters at the time of certificate renewal might fall victim to cost cutting seems worrying. It would make sense to keep the checks, but to simplify a body of law that has become over-complicated.”

Guidelines from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) advise forces to make home visits to gun owners every five years. However, Adrian Whiting, ACPO’s lead on firearms licensing, told the Home Affairs Committee in November of concerns that police budget cuts would bring pressure on the firearms licensing process, “particularly regarding home visits on grant and renewal”.

Mike Yardley said: “In my county, Essex, there is an excellent relationship between shooters and those people responsible for firearms licensing. I don’t think any of us want to see this change. We need a system that continues to look at the person and which does not become bogged down bureaucratically.”

BASC’s senior firearms officer, Mike Eveleigh, cautiously accepted the plans.

He said: “If a sporting shooter comes to the attention of the police during the life of the certificate, they will receive a visit anyway. We have heard assurances from ACPO that public safety will not be compromised by the cuts in finances and we trust that this will be the case.”

“The system has become bureaucratic and cumbersome, and we believe there is scope for further savings in police time in the process. BASC is already involved with ACPO and the Home Office in the process of simplifying the various forms used in the licensing process.”

Hertfordshire Police said a similar approach to licence renewals had already been adopted by a number of other forces across the country, and that only 0.2% of applications were refused in 2008/09.

A spokesman said: “At a time of significant reductions in police funding, it is important that we review those areas where processes can be refined and savings can be made without impacting on public safety. Currently, firearms licensing is subsidised by non-licence holders, as the fees for licences only provide for 16% of the cost of providing the service. While this is being examined by the Home Office, we need to make best use of public funds.”

“The new approach will provide the public of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire with a robust service that delivers more timely, risk- assessed interventions to continue to ensure public safety, while also saving money.”

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