Unhappy with the service you get from your police licencing department? If so, don't suffer in silence ...
Q: Some friends of mine have been lifelong shooters and I have always enjoyed the sport, from clays to pigeon shooting. This made me decide to apply for my own shotgun certificate so that I can continue to enjoy it without relying on my friends being there and the use of their guns. I applied for my shotgun certificate in January and had a visit from the firearms officer in April. He was happy and said that I would hear back shortly — within two weeks. It is now October and, despite sending numerous emails, I still have no certificate. The response I receive is that Essex Police is understaffed and cannot give me a timeframe. This is frustrating but I feel that there is nothing I can do.
A: There is plenty you can do. You are complaining to the wrong person. The right person to complain to is Roger Hirst, the county’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner. Essex is, and has long been, among the worst-performing forces. The latest figures from BASC show that Essex is taking 134 days to grant a shotgun certificate, which is, admittedly, an improvement on the 258 days in BASC’s previous survey. Draw Mr Hirst’s attention to West Mercia, which has many more certificate holders than Essex and is processing grants in four weeks. He needs your vote if he wants to be re-elected in 2020.
What’s poor service?
How do you know if the service you are getting is below standard? Check the following:
- You should get a renewal reminder from the police 10-12 weeks before your certificate expires.
- The reminder is not a legal requirement but it is good practice.
- Provided you return your correctly completed paperwork 6-8 weeks before expiry then your certificate should be renewed on time.
- If you’re applying for an initial grant, allow about 8 weeks and for a variation 2-3 weeks. Anything outside this merits a complaint.
- The renewal letter may contain signs that you’re going to be disappointed. The first is a demand that you return your expiring certificate.
- This is not a legal requirement and you should always politely refuse or ignore such a request. Only poor police forces make this demand.
The second, more serious sign, is a sentence saying it will be OK for you to keep guns even if the certificate is not renewed in time. This statement has no legal validity whatsoever and effectively the police are encouraging you to break the law.
The only way you may lawfully retain your guns without a current certificate is if the police have issued a Section 7 permit.
They claim that issuing this takes as long as issuing a certificate. Well they’re wrong, it doesn’t.
Home Office guidance clearly states that Section 7 permits should be issued if there are delays in renewal which are beyond the applicant’s control. If you think you may find yourself in this situation you should enclose a covering letter with your application making clear you will require a Section 7 permit if the renewal is not on time.
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Who to complain to when your shotgun licence is delayed
- Don’t mess about, go straight to the top, and that means the Chief Constable.
- You can find a name and address on the force website, usually at the foot of some pious statement about the high standard of service his force supposedly delivers.
- Write to the CC personally. Keep the letter short (not more than one page of A4), courteous and to the point.
- Don’t waffle, stick to the facts. Make it clear you expect both an answer and some action.
- A letter to the Chief Constable usually does the trick but sometimes the reply will be delegated to a minion who may try to wriggle.
- If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, along with your certificate – take things a stage further.
- Either write to, or visit, your Member of Parliament. A visit to the constituency surgery is best, but a letter will do.
- Again, keep it short and factual. MPs work on the basis that one letter is a problem but ten letters are a crisis, so get any friends who have experienced the same as you to write as well.
- One of the key things to include in a letter or bring up at the meeting is a request that the MP raises your concerns with the Home Secretary and ask for an assurance that things will be sorted out.
- This forces the Home Office to write to the Chief Constable asking for an explanation.
- It’s time consuming and no bureaucrat likes to be on the receiving end of a Parliamentary Question.
- If enough folk complain the message will eventually get through.