Fireworks and the law
Under the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997 all fireworks for use by the public must meet British Standard BS 7114, which sets out four categories:
- Category 1 - indoor fireworks
- Category 2 - garden fireworks
- Category 3 - display fireworks for open areas such as fields
- Category 4 - professional fireworks for large open areas
Under the regulations the sale of fireworks to anyone under 18 is banned, and caps, cracker snaps and party poppers cannot be sold to anyone under 16. The supply of bangers, mini rockets, fireworks that fly erratically (squibs, helicopters etc), ariel shells, ariel maroons, ariel mortars, some large category 2 and 3 fireworks and all category 4 fireworks are banned from supply to the public.
These regulations are enforced by local authority trading standards officers. Suppliers or shopkeepers in breach face a fine of up to £5,000 or six months in prison.
Since January 2005 the sale of fireworks to the public is prohibited except from licensed traders. The Fireworks Regulations 2004 state that in England, Wales and Scotland, fireworks can be sold by unlicensed traders for Chinese New Year and the preceding 3 days; Diwali and the preceding three days; 15 October – 10 November to allow Bonfire Night Celebrations, and 26 – 31 December for New Year celebrations. The Fireworks Regulations 2004 also prohibit the supply of fireworks louder that 120 decibels.
Storage of fireworks
Under the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005 (MSER) individuals can store up to 5kg of Hazard Type 4 fireworks (generally Category 1 and 2 fireworks) without a licence and for an unlimited time. The Regulations also permit individuals to store up to 50kg of Hazard Type 4 fireworks for private use for up to 21 days, without the need to licence or register. However, although the Regulations permit small quantities of fireworks to be kept without the need to licence or register, other requirements of the regulations - eg on storing safely - still apply.
Laws covering nuisance and danger caused by fireworks
If a local authority officer judges noise from fireworks to be a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, they can issue an abatement notice – however, as firework noise is short lived, in practice it can prove difficult to locate the source. If excessive noise is emitted from premises (including gardens) between 11pm and 7am. Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 local authorities or the police can apply to magistrates for an anti-social behaviour order where anyone has caused "harassment, alarm or distress". Disobeying an order carries a maximum penalty of a five year prison sentence.
Throwing or setting off fireworks in the street is an offence under the Explosives Act 1875. This is enforced by the police, and a fixed penalty notice of £80 applies. Police can enforce a fixed penalty notice of £80 to anyone under 18 possessing a firework in a public place and for breach of the 11pm curfew on letting off fireworks.
It is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to animals under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. A penalty of up to £5000 and/or 6 months in prison is enforceable by police, trading standards or the RSPCA.
When you can use fireworks
The Fireworks Regulations 2004 prohibit anyone under 18 from possessing fireworks, and anyone except professionals from possessing display fireworks. These regulations also prohibit the use of fireworks at night (11pm – 7am) in England and Wales, with extensions for the following festivals:
- Until 1am following the first day of Chinese New Year
- Until midnight on 5 November
- Until 1am on the day following Diwali day
- Until 1am on the day following 31 December
These regulations are enforced by the police. There is a penalty of up to £5,000 or six months in prison for breach of the curfew.