Guy Fawkes Night is just around the corner, but these days fireworks are making a bang all year round.
Although traditionally fireworks are lit to celebrate 5 November, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali, you can legally buy them at any time of the year.
There’s no denying that a firework display can be fun for all the family, but unfortunately a small minority of people are using them irresponsibly.
Anti-social behaviour involving fireworks ranges from them being set off late at night, to deliberate physical harm or threat of harm caused to people, animals and property.
This has left many people wondering exactly what the law is surrounding the use of fireworks – and what can be done if someone is causing a nuisance with them where you live.
Here, Simon Roberts, Senior Associate at DAS Law, explains exactly what you need to know.
What is the law on buying fireworks and when can I buy them?
You have to be over 18 to purchase fireworks in the UK and, theoretically, you can buy them all year round from a licensed seller.
However, there are two types of licenses for anyone selling fireworks – long-term and short-term licenses.
Most retailers such as supermarkets and newsagents have a short-term license which enables them to sell fireworks only at certain times of the year, for example between 15 October and 10 November for bonfire celebrations and Halloween, between 26 and 31 December for Christmas and New Year, and three days before Chinese New Year and Diwali.
Fireworks are divided into categories, and for domestic displays consumers can buy category three fireworks.
If you want to set off fireworks for a private event such as a party or wedding, you can buy them from a registered seller with an all-year or long-term license. If you are running a professional display of fireworks, you will get access to bigger and louder (category four and five) fireworks.
What should I do if someone is setting fireworks off in my street late at night?
If you buy fireworks for personal use, you are only allowed to use them on your private property or property where you have the consent of the landowner.
It is considered a criminal offence to set off fireworks in the street or other public places without permission, and you can contact the police if someone is doing this.
If you want to set them off in a public place for events, such as for a street party, you will need to obtain express permission from the local authority.
How can I legally hold my own firework display?
To legally hold your own firework display without falling foul of criminal law you must be over 18 and have purchased the fireworks from a licensed supplier.
If you’re setting them off in a public place, you must also have obtained permission from the relevant authority.
Whilst it is legal to set fireworks off on private land, if you’re a tenant in a property it is worth checking with the landlord to see if there’s any stipulation preventing setting off fireworks in your lease.
It is important to note that you have a duty of care to ensure the safety of your neighbours and visitors if you have your own firework display.
Check the online guidelines of the RoSPA (Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents) to ensure that you are well informed with the necessary precautions to take.
All fireworks come with instructions and any negligence – such as setting them off in an inappropriate environment or against the published instructions – resulting in injury to someone or damage to property could make you liable for a civil claim.
Is there a legal curfew?
Generally, fireworks on private property may be set off all year round between 7am and 11pm.
However, at certain times of the year this curfew is extended – to midnight on Guy Fawkes Night and 1am on New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali.
It is important to note that local by-laws may affect these curfews, so it is worth checking with your local authority whether there are any extra limitations.
What happens if I break the law?
Under the Firework Act of 2003, if you break the law around firework use you can receive a prison sentence of up to six months or a fine up to £5,000.
Breaching of the act constitutes a criminal offence – however, if you cause any damage to property or injury to someone, you may be liable for a civil offence and could be sued for negligence.