Need to apply for a firearms certificate? Here is the information you need.

A firearm certificate is valid for five years, which is the same length of time as a shotgun certificate.  However there are differences between the two documents.

When is a firearms certificate necessary?

  • Both air rifles and more powerful guns are the same in the eyes of the law – they’re seen as firearms
  • In England you don’t need a licence for low powered air weapons, unless they are of a type declared as dangerous.
  • You can read the latest laws on air rifles here.
  • A firearms certificate currently costs £88 for the grant and £62 for renewal
  • If you are renewing your certificate, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) recommends that you allow at least 12 weeks for your renewal to come through, before the expiry of your certificate.
  • Do not wait for renewal letters to arrive before starting the process and don’t return expiring certificates as you will need them to prove that you are a lawful gun owner and to buy ammunition.

A Senior Firearms Officer for BASC advises:

“Firearm and shotgun licensing is often complex and confusing, so when you are completing the forms – or even thinking about taking up shooting – it’s worth contacting your shooting organisation for help and guidance; after all that’s what you pay them for.”

Police forces offering online applications for firearms certificates

At the time of writing, the following police forces were offering an online service.

Avon & Somerset Police

Hampshire Police

Lincolnshire Police

North Yorkshire Police

Thames Valley Police


Completing your firearm certificate application

  • You can download the firearms certificate application form from your local police force here. 
  • You will need to state the calibre and type of gun and ammunition you want to use. This needs to be specific rather than broad; you can’t state a generic group such as .22 CF.
  • Your completed form must be accompanied with four identical passport photographs of yourself. You also need to provide details of two people who have agreed to act as a referee for you. They must be British residents, have known you for at least two years and be of good character. A family member cannot be a referee and neither can a registered firearms dealer, a person employed by the police or Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).
  • As part of the process, you will be asked to give permission for the police to approach your GP. If you aren’t registered with a GP in the UK, you can’t complete the form.
  • You will need to provide details of any land you have permission to shoot over, or of any target shooting club you are a member of.
  • You should have some form of secure storage for your guns, and also for your ammunition.
shotgun security

Firearms security

One of the most tragic events of 2016 was the murder of the MP, Jo Cox. She was shot with a sawn-off .22…

How do the police decide who to give a firearm certificate to?

The police will carry out a number of checks including interviews, visits to your property, references from friends and record checks to decide if you are safe to own a firearm or rifle.

The police need to be satisfied that:

  • You are fit to be entrusted with a firearm and aren’t prohibited from possessing one
  • You have good reason for possessing or purchasing a firearm
  • You can possess the firearm or ammunition without being a danger to the public safety or peace

You might find it useful to read the Home Office guide on firearms licensing law.

What is good reason to own a fiream?

The police want to see that you need your rifle or firearm on a regular basis for work, sport or leisure. It is up to the chief officer to decide what constitutes a good reason. However, chief officers can exercise their discretion over what constitutes a good reason.

What are variations?

A variation is needed if you want to change details of the firearm(s) on your certificate. You can download the correct form here.

A “one for one” variation is needed if you are replacing an existing firearm or you want to change the type of rifle or firearm you are allowed to possess. This will be processed for free. Often the application doesn’t need to be re-examined.

If you want to increase the number of guns and/or component parts you hold, including sound moderators, you will need to pay a variation fee of £20.

When don’t you need a firearm certificate?

  • If you have a low powered air gun
  • If the gun is classed as a de-activated firearm
  • If you work in the service of the Crown or police
  • There are certain other exceptions such as shooting at a Home Office Approved Target Shooting club, for example.

Young people and firearms

Young people aged 14 – 17 can legally borrow an air rifle and ammunition and use it without supervision on private premises where they have permission to shoot.In a public place, they need to be supervised by someone aged 21 and over and have a reasonable reason for doing so. At this age they can’t hire or receive a firearm or ammunition as a gift. It must be bought and looked after by an adult.

Children under 14 can use an air rifle but they need to be supervised by someone at least 21 years old.

What about if you inherit guns?

If you inherit any kind of firearm including a shotgun, the person inheriting the guns must declare them to a registered firearms dealer or the police. If you fail to do this, you are breaking the law and could lose any opportunity of getting your firearm or shotgun certificate and retaining the guns.

It’s advised that you declare these to a firearms dealer who will be able to advise you on their value or how to proceed if you wish to keep the guns.

What if your firearms certificate is delayed?

If your certificate expires before you receive a valid replacement you should ask for a temporary permit, issued under Section 7 of the Firearms Act 1968. It should be granted in the event of an administrative delay. But the advice is to apply at least three months before expiry. The time it takes to process a certificate varies widely from one police force to another. For example the City of London has a minimal turnaround, whereas the West Midlands has a 102 day wait, according to the latest figures published by BASC.

shotgun security

Firearms security

One of the most tragic events of 2016 was the murder of the MP, Jo Cox. She was shot with a sawn-off .22…

What if you lose your firearm certificate?

You can have it replaced for £4.

If your certificate is very dirty, mutilated or so full that legible entries can’t be made, you are entitled to a replacement for free.