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Firearms licensing problems: is there anything you can do about them? Yes, says David Frost

David Frost says we should complain about poor service or things will never get better

firearms licensing problems

It’s seldom I have anything encouraging to write about firearms licensing and this is no exception. Some folk are having to wait six months and more to get certificates granted or renewed.  (Read how long will you have to wait for your shotgun and firearms certificate?)These firearms licensing problems and waiting times are unacceptable. BASC has a dozen poorly performing forces in its sights. If you live in Cornwall (102), Cumbria (178), Devon (102), Dorset (119), Durham (115), Hampshire (84), Humberside (88), Greater London Met (96), Northamptonshire (77), Northumbria (153), Staffordshire (119) or the West Midlands (131) you’re likely to be suffering an indifferent service. The figures are the average turnaround time for grant and renewal published by BASC. Anything more than 56 calendar days is unacceptable, which will become clear as you read on.


Firearms licensing problems – which forces are worst?

Around half these forces featured among the worst performers when HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) did its last inspection of licensing in 2015. Worse still, excluding the present incumbent, the last three chairmen of the police Firearms and Explosives Licensing Working Group (FELWG) have come from forces in this list – Durham, Hampshire and Dorset. Being the national lead, or former lead, on licensing is no guarantee a force is doing a decent job.

Training needed

The depressing thing is that there is nothing new in this but, collectively, the police have done nothing to improve the situation. There is, though, a glimmer on the horizon as the College of Policing (led by a former FELWG chairman) is reportedly considering an annual accreditation and assessment programme for Firearms Enquiry Officers (FEO). Since FEOs are the frontline of licensing this can only be a good thing – nearly 30 years after HMIC first commented on the lamentable lack of training for licensing staff.

Legally the chief officer of each force is responsible for licensing but, in practice, delegates his duties to a much lower level. I suspect few senior management teams get a regular and meaningful update on the state of licensing in its force. If it did, surely something would be done? Some forces have long management chains which may facilitate individuals evading responsibility.

side by side shotgun

BASC has a dozen poorly performing forces in its sights


Most people who get a lousy service don’t complain but if there are no complaints the senior management won’t be aware of problems and it’s unlikely a Firearms Licensing Manager (FLM) will admit that things are not going well on their watch.

The system needs your voice when things are going wrong. If your grant, variation or renewal takes more than two months you should complain immediately to your Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), not to the FLM who could be the cause of the problem. (You can find your local PCC here.) PCCs are the elected officials responsible for ensuring that policing meets the needs of the community and for holding the police to account for its performance, and they will need your vote next time if they stand for re-election.

One thing is for certain, if you don’t complain about poor service things, as they stand, will never get better.

shotguns in a row in shop

An automatic certificate extension allows you to buy ammunition

Review of fees

The Home Office is conducting a review of certificate fees. They were last changed in 2015 and it’s unfair to the police that there has been no change since. The police would like to see the fee set at ‘full cost recovery’. That might be acceptable if it was providing a decent service and knew what the cost is but it isn’t and it doesn’t.

Figures published by BASC based on a freedom of information request show that the cost per certificate in Durham is £521.99 with the runner-up being Merseyside at £300.30. At the other end of the scale the cost in Humberside is £42.21 and in Wiltshire £56.32. Most forces fall in the £100 to £171 bracket. Either there are monumental efficiency differences between forces or they don’t know the exact cost, in which case one may assume it’s not an issue for them.

Provided you get your renewal application in at least eight weeks before expiry it will automatically be extended for eight weeks if not renewed on time. The renewed certificate will run from the original expiry date, this prevents an inefficient force from leaving you in unlawful possession if the renewal process is slow. It also shows that eight weeks should be the normal maximum time for processing a renewal. The automatic extension allows you to buy and sell guns and ammunition, and you should get a formal letter saying the certificate has been extended. (Read David’s advice on renewing a shotgun certificate here.)

If your certificate is not renewed before the extension expires you should insist on being given a Section 7 permit. This allows you to possess and sell guns but not to buy them. You may buy a shotgun, but not rifle, ammunition so it is quite restrictive. If you find yourself in this situation it certainly merits an immediate complaint to the PCC.