Law guide: Complaints & disputes

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Fireworks

Fireworks

Contents

While most people enjoy fireworks responsibly, in the wrong hands they can cause real misery. Too many people let off noisy fireworks late at night with no regard for the nuisance this causes their neighbours and animals in the area. A dangerous minority deliberately uses them to harass, intimidate and sometimes seriously harm those around them.

Fireworks in England and Wales

Laws against fireworks misuse

There are laws in place to protect communities from the misuse of fireworks. These are powers for the police to help tackle problems in their communities.

Fireworks are categorised under the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015 under the following categories:

  • Category F1 fireworks are fireworks which present a very low hazard and negligible noise level and which are intended for use in confined areas, including fireworks which are intended for use inside domestic buildings.
  • Category F2 fireworks are fireworks which present a low hazard and low noise level and which are intended for outdoor use in confined areas.
  • Category F3 fireworks are fireworks which present a medium hazard, which are intended for outdoor use in large open areas and whose noise level is not harmful to human health.
  • Category F4 fireworks are fireworks which present a high hazard, which are intended for use only by persons with specialist knowledge and whose noise level is not harmful to human health.

Adult fireworks are defined as those in categories F2, F3 and F4.

Breaking the law by committing any of the following offences carries a fine or 6 months in prison, or both:

  • Throwing fireworks or setting off fireworks in public places:

Section 80 of the Explosives Act 1875 prohibits anyone from throwing or setting off fireworks in or into any highway, street, thoroughfare or public place. A public place is anywhere other than someone's own back garden – the local park, streets, school yard and bus station are all public places.

  • Possession of adult fireworks by anyone under the age of 18 in a public place (under the Fireworks Regulations 2004).
  • Possession of category 4 fireworks (public display fireworks) by anyone other than a fireworks professional (under the Fireworks Regulations 2004).
  • Using fireworks outside permitted hours:

The Fireworks Regulations 2004 also make it an offence for any person to use adult fireworks between the hours of 11pm and 7am – except for 'permitted' fireworks nights. These exceptions, where the curfew start time is later, are as follows:

  • 5 November: 12 midnight
  • Diwali: 1am
  • New Year's Eve: 1am
  • Chinese New Year: 1am
  • An £80 penalty notice for disorder (PNDs) for persons aged 18 and over

Other powers can be put to use where fireworks misuse is part of a wider anti-social behaviour problem. This could include acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs), dispersal notices, injunctions and ASBOs in Scotland and Northern Ireland. See our Solutions (England & Wales) and Solutions (Scotland & Northern Ireland) sections.

Who is responsible for tackling fireworks misuse?

A number of agencies have responsibility for protecting the community from fireworks misuse, including the fire services, trading standards and local authorities; however, the police have a range of powers to take swift action in the event of a nuisance.

Police and community support officers

Police and community support officers can:

  • Stop and search anyone they suspect of being in possession of prohibited fireworks.
  • Issue £80 PNDs for anyone over 18 throwing fireworks.

The police can prosecute individuals for:

  • Throwing fireworks or setting off fireworks in public places
  • Possession of 'adult fireworks' by anyone under the age of 18 in a public place
  • Possession of category 4 fireworks (public display fireworks) by anyone other than a fireworks professional
  • Use of fireworks during curfew times

Trading standards

Trading standards can enforce illegal sale of fireworks. This may include a seller selling fireworks without an appropriate licence, or outside the normal selling period, or to underage people. This also includes the sale of illegally imported fireworks.

Local authorities

  • Have a responsibility to ensure that sellers are correctly licensed (if the fire service do not have the responsibility locally)
  • Can use powers to enforce noise nuisances caused by fireworks, including issuing FPNs for noise offences

Fire service

The fire service has a responsibility to ensure that sellers are correctly licensed (if the local authority does not have the responsibility locally)

The community

The community has a responsibility to report any firework nuisances to the relevant authority. In the first instance, this is likely to be the police, but it may be more appropriate to contact the local authority nuisance team.

Regulations on licensing and importing fireworks

Licensing of fireworks suppliers

Any person selling adult fireworks to members of the public for an extended period around the usual fireworks season dates, for example, Guy Fawkes and Diwali, must have a licence granted by the local licensing authority (the local authority or the local fire service).

Importation of fireworks

Anyone importing fireworks must now give details (including name and address, the name of the person storing the fireworks, and the address of the premises where the fireworks are to be stored) to HM Customs and Revenue.

HM Customs and Revenue, local authority trading standards officers and local fire and rescue services have a responsibility to ensure that strategies are in place to manage the licensing and importation of fireworks.

Stop and search powers

In addition, section 115 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCA) introduced a further power for the police to stop and search an individual or vehicle suspected of being in possession of prohibited fireworks.

Fireworks in Scotland

The law is basically the same in Scotland. The Fireworks Regulations 2004 apply. However, section 115 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 does not extend to Scotland. (Some other parts of this Act do extend to Scotland.)

Fireworks in Northern Ireland

The Explosives (Fireworks) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2002 regulate the use of fireworks. They require a person who wishes to possess, purchase, sell, acquire, handle or use fireworks, to apply to the Secretary of State for a licence. The only exception to this rule is for Category 1 fireworks, i.e. sparklers and indoor fireworks.

Fireworks offences carry a penalty of up to £5,000 and/or a six month prison term.