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Firearms licence-holders are no cash cows – National Policing Lead for Firearms and Explosive Licensing, Chief Constable Andy Marsh responds to Backbencher blog.

The cost of a firearms licence has not changed since 2001 and at the time of writing, the taxpayer is subsiding shooters to a sum in the region of more than £17 million per year so the minority may legally operate firearms.

Shooters are charged £50 to be granted a five-year firearms licence. Following research in more than 20 different police forces, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has estimated the cost of processing such an application to be in the region of £200.

This creates a deficit between the cost of processing the application and the fee paid which is currently being picked up by the tax payer, rather than those who benefit from the licence. As such ACPO submitted a proposal to the Home Office to increase fees in licensing.

After protracted period of negotiation an increase from £50 to £92 was proposed. There was universal agreement amongst all consulted that this amounted to less than the actual cost of the licensing process, by anyone's estimation.

The proposal sought full cost recovery, in line with the Treasury's own guidance, within three to five years.

Any changes to the fees system would of course have to be implemented by the Home Office who were supportive of the proposal in principle which was clearly made in the interests of the taxpayer and with increased efficiencies to policing in mind.

ACPO does not seek to lobby Government and that does not form part of its remit. However, with the deficit in licence fee costs being picked up by the taxpayer, it is certainly a matter of public interest that we highlighted the issue and passed it to central government to decide.

As the national policing lead for this area, my three priorities for firearms and explosive licensing are:


  • to improve public safety by preventing foreseeable or avoidable harm through proportionate and necessary measures
  • to improve the efficiency of firearms licensing, making it a rigorous and appropriately thorough yet cost effective process, which is nationally consistent
  • to provide an excellent service to the public, inclusive of both certificate and none certificate holders.


The proposal of an increase in fees was far from an opportunity to generate income and was certainly not seen as a 'cash cow' to swell police coffers. Instead it was designed to support the delivery of these priorities and bridge the gap between the charge for licences and the actual cost of granting them.

There are approximately 780,000 firearms and explosives licences in force in the United Kingdom. Allowing for holders, who are licensed to have both firearms and shotguns, this equates to approximately 680,000 individuals with a licence lasting for five years.

Again, allowing for new applications and general licence-holder turnover, which accounts for just over four per cent of licence holders per annum, the police service will, on average, deal with approximately 140,000 applications and renewals each year.

In 2009-2010, the estimated total cost of firearms licensing was approximately £23.6 million with the fees paid equating to £6.4 million for the same period. This left a net cost to the tax payer of approximately £17.2 million. In simple terms this means the cost to licence holders of to about 27 per cent of the actual costs.

In my role I work and consult with shooting organisations such as the British Shooting Sports Council, and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, as well as organisations such as the Gun Control Network - a relationship which is integral to the fair introduction and implementation of changes and improvements to police processes surrounding firearms.

It would be easy for the uninitiated to compare this particular licence with the likes of television licences, passports or rod licences for fishing. But these all involve significantly less administrative work and do not require public safety visits. By way of example, the cost of a shotgun licence over five years, as previously mentioned, is currently £50. The cost of a rod licence for migratory fish over the same period amounts to £360.

The current period of austerity is creating the need for forces to make efficiencies which are in some cases leading to backlogs in processing applications and maintaining up to date records regarding details of weapons held by an individual.

This presents a potential risk to public safety as well as impeding their ability to provide a fair and efficient firearms licensing service.

It’s for these reasons the proposal was made.

Andy Marsh is the Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary and National Policing Lead for Firearms and Explosive Licensing.