Improvements in firearms licensing are long overdue, and BASC believes an evidence-based approach will help bring about change
Inconsistent licensing services and prolonged delays are among the most unwelcome features of firearms licensing in the UK. Every month BASC’s firearms team receives complaints from members frustrated by what appears to be an improperly managed and under-resourced service. The situation is worsened by recent licence fee increases – an increase that saw no corresponding improvement in service. The government, too, has recognised the situation, with HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary) bluntly describing firearm licensing practices as “inconsistent and inadequate” (HIMC, 2015).
BASC recently published findings from our licensing performance database, which tracks the amount of time taken by each police force to issue grants and renewals, in addition to a range of other licensing activities, such as processing transaction notifications and issuing variations.
Our efforts have already attracted a lot of attention with strong engagement from shooters on social media, an article in Shooting Times discussing our findings, and an interview with Dave Orford, assistant chief constable and national firearms lead, in Police Professional which cites the need for improvement following the report.
Currently, our database is incomplete, but not for a lack of trying – every police force in England and Wales was asked to produce the information voluntarily, and those which didn’t were issued with freedom of information (FOI) requests. Some have still not surrendered the information despite their statutory obligation to do so.
We initially went to publication with information from 38 police forces. From this, we can report the mean average for a Section 1 grant to be 91 days, 88 days for a Section 2 grant, 70 days for a Section 1 renewal, 67 days for a Section 2 renewal, 26 days to issue a variation, 33 days to conduct a suitability assessment, and 15 days to process a transaction notification.
Only 19 forces provided information on transaction notification processing times. A further four police forces declined to answer the question regarding certificate variation times. In fact, only five forces (Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Lancashire,
‘Every police force in England and Wales was asked to produce the information voluntarily, and those which didn’t were issued with FOI requests’
Staffordshire and West Midlands) provided data for every question asked. We would like to thank these forces for their cooperation and praise their diligent awareness of their licensing activities in particular.
In many respects, we find absent data more concerning than data showing poor performance. Performance not recorded, or recorded in a fashion that makes it inaccessible, leaves police forces unaware of performance issues, and therefore unable to address them.
Since initial publication, one further police force, Dorset, has provided data following a second, shorter FOI request. Avon & Somerset has refused the second request. City of London, Cleveland and West Yorkshire are yet to reply at the time of writing.
Although we initially followed the Home Office in grouping England and Wales, we are now looking to include Scotland as well. BASC Scotland has begun making enquiries and data will be presented in due course.
While the averages cause no particular alarm, the inconsistency of service does. Figures differ between forces by orders of magnitude, leaving some waiting the best part of a year for a service that would be delivered in under a month, had they a different postcode.
BASC’s firearms team believes transaction notification processing delays to be particularly concerning, as there is a potential public safety risk. Firearm holders are required to notify their police force within seven days of a change of custody.
We believe this obligation should be reciprocated by the licensing authority – the same public safety reasons for needing to receive the
information promptly also apply to needing to process it promptly.
BASC’s criticisms of firearms licensing aren’t new, nor does our data reveal anything surprising. Many forces are continuing to deliver a substandard service despite calls to improve. BASC is using the data to guide a campaign with the PCCs of the worst performing forces and Dave Orford, in an effort to bring about improvement.
Each cell in the above league table shows the relevant average, recorded in calendar days. ‘N/A’ may mean the force had the information but refused to answer, that they aren’t recording data entirely, or that they record the information in an inaccessible fashion (individual paper records). For the latest version of the league table, visit BASC’s website at www.basc.org.uk
‘Performance not recorded, or recorded in a fashion that makes it inaccessible, leaves police forces unaware of performance issues’
Through the creation of a national performance database and other work, BASC strives to establish good working relationships wih police forces and their licensing team members