Firearms licensing inconsistencies “are symptomatic of wider police failures”

A major overhaul of the firearms licensing service has been called for following an investigation by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).

Through a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, the report found significant inconsistences in the service provided by the 42 separate firearms licensing departments in England and Wales.

The figures show that the cost of handling a firearms licence application by the licensing departments can differ by up to six times. The cost of processing applications ranged from £87 by Avon and Somerset Police, to £522 by Durham Constabulary(1).

Significant delays were recorded across many licensing departments, with average turnaround times ranging from 40 working days by Hertfordshire Constabulary, to 178 working days by Cumbria Constabulary(1).

BASC states that these inconsistencies and delays are impacting both the shooting community and the gun trade, playing a significant part in the eight per cent reduction in certificate holders over the last two years, equating to a net-loss of 47,000 applicants and more than £100 million loss to the economy(2).

Martin Parker, BASC head of firearms, said: “The failings across firearms licensing are symptomatic of wider police failures being seen across the board. This is not a new issue, but an ongoing problem compounded by a failure to adequately cope with challenges brought by the pandemic.

“There are still several forces delivering an excellent service and clearly demonstrate good practice that could be emulated. Unfortunately, we are receiving record numbers of complaints regarding delays from the rest.

“On an individual level, we are hearing of waiting times extending well over a year, certificates expiring with no communication from the licensing department and decisions being made outside of the Home Office statutory guidance.

“The licensing service is in place to protect public safety, and it is in this interest that the Home Office must act immediately.”

The report recommends a major overhaul of the licensing service through either the unification of licensing, as has been seen in Scotland, or the creation of an independent regulator to ensure failing forces are held to account.

Mr Parker continued, “The service provided is crying out for consistency and efficiency. There have been little improvements since the review by Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) back in 2015(3).

“Chief Constables may claim that they do not have the resources to adequately fund struggling licensing departments but spend a fortune duplicating functions across the different forces. Firearms licensing cannot be left to wither as a Cinderella service within the police force, the risks are too high.”

England and Wales are not alone in dealing with delays, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) recently declared a ‘critical incident’ on their Firearms and Explosives Branch following the backlog reaching 4,000 individuals(4).

“There are a number of forces in England and Wales who should be thinking about declaring a critical incident”, according to Mr Parker, “There will be some forces where the Chief Constable is oblivious to the issue, a critical incident will ensure a greater level of scrutiny from top to bottom.”

Case studies:

Robert Barrett, owner of the gun shop Barrett’s of Caterham, Surrey, said: “We have been dealing with firearms licensing for decades and have never experienced it in such a dire state. We estimate that over the past two years trade is down 60 per cent as a result of the delays across the licensing departments.


“We are seeing individuals who require a licence for their livelihood being held up by failings in administration. In one instance an individual waited two years for a change of address. It is a complete postcode lottery between forces.

“Most of our time is spent talking customers through the application process or with queries as they cannot get through to the licensing department. Something needs to give.”


Julian Fairburn, owner of Combe Farm Sporting, Crewkerne, Somerset, said: “We are seeing clear links between reduced sales and the delays in firearms licensing. We are hearing of people waiting one or two years for their applications to be processed, these people want to make purchases but are being forced into waiting. The current situation is holding our business back.”



Brian Smith, owner of UK Gun Repairs, Taunton, Somerset, said: “We have reached a point where the delays in firearms licensing are now directly impacting our business. We have a dozen guns ready to be collected by individuals who are in the queue to be granted a certificate, some have been waiting over a year.


“We are getting more and more customers wanting to sell their firearms as they do not wish to renew under the current circumstances. This is having a significant knock-on effect on our business and others such as shooting grounds and clubs.”