Guidance

Controlled drugs: licences, fees and returns

How to apply for licences to handle controlled drugs as a company or individual traveller, including import and export procedures and fees.

Overview

Companies and individuals in England, Wales or Scotland need to apply for Home Office licences if they wish to produce, supply, possess, import or export ‘controlled drugs’. For the purposes of the UN Convention on the control of Narcotics the Home Office additionally acts as, and discharges the functions of, the National Cannabis Agency.

Controlled drugs are named in the Misuse of Drugs legislation and grouped in schedules. Anyone intending to produce, supply or possess a controlled drug must apply for the relevant schedule licence.

We publish a list of the most commonly encountered drugs currently controlled under the misuse of drugs legislation showing their respective classifications under both the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. Although it is extensive, the list is not exhaustive and, in the event of a substance not being listed below, reference should also be made to the published act and regulations at legislation.gov.uk, specifically parts I, II, III and IV of schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and in schedules 1 to 5 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001.

This guide explains how individuals travelling and companies can apply for controlled drug licences. It contains details of the application process, fees and other requirements including licensee statements and annual returns.

The Home Office issued open ended, ‘no time limit’ licences between January 2006 and October 2010. We ran a licence replacement programme for these types of licence and all open-ended, ‘no time limit’ licences have been revoked and are no longer valid.

Since October 2010 all licences issued have a time-limited validity, typically for one year. There is no automatic renewal process and licensees must re-apply annually if they wish to obtain a further licence.

Nothing in this summary is intended to supersede the effect of the 1971 act or 2001 regulations. Anyone wanting to carry out licensable activities in relation to controlled drugs must ensure they comply with their statutory obligations at all times and take their own legal advice as necessary.

Applying for a licence: travellers carrying lawfully prescribed controlled drugs

Travellers who are carrying controlled drugs (lawfully prescribed to them in their country of habitual residence) out of or into the UK for their own personal use may need a personal licence if they meet either of the following criteria:

  • they are travelling with controlled drugs listed under schedules 2, 3, 4 part I and 4 part II to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 for 3 calendar months or more
  • they are carrying more than 3 months’ supply of controlled drugs listed under schedules 2, 3, 4 part I and 4 part II to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001

Please use this form to apply for a personal import or export licence for controlled drugs.

Making a personal licence application

Please apply for a personal licence at least 10 working days before your travel date.

You will need to provide the following:

  • a completed application form for a personal export or import licence
  • a letter from your prescribing clinician, which must confirm your name, travel itinerary, names of prescribed controlled drugs, dosages and total amounts of each to be carried – it must also clearly show details of the clinician’s professional registration with the relevant authority where they practise

Overseas applicants

If you are applying from overseas for an import licence you should allow more time for your application to be processed and for the licence to be posted to you. We advise you not to make fixed travel arrangements before receiving the licence.

Travelling for less than 3 months, or with schedule 5 drugs

If you are travelling for less than 3 months and you are carrying less than 3 months’ supply of prescribed controlled drugs listed under schedules 2, 3, 4 part I and 4 part II to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, you will not need a personal import or export licence to enter or leave the UK.

If you are carrying prescribed drugs listed under schedule 5 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 you will not need a personal import or export licence to enter or leave the UK.

In both cases we advise you to obtain a letter from your prescribing clinician, which should confirm your name, travel itinerary, names of prescribed controlled drugs, dosages and total amounts of each to be carried.

If you are carrying prescribed medication which is not a controlled drug you may also wish to obtain a similar letter.

Regulations in other countries

Other countries may have their own import regulations for controlled drugs and prescription medicines. We strongly advise you to check this with the UK-based representatives of the country or countries that you are travelling to or through.

Please find a list of contacts for embassies, consulates and High Commissions.

Exclusions to the ‘personal import’ policy

The ‘personal import’ policy provisions set out above do not apply to people habitually resident in the UK receiving medical treatment abroad. If a person is prescribed controlled drugs while overseas and intends to return to the UK with them, they should contact the Home Office before travel. In the event of a medical repatriation, the relevant contracted company may do this on the patient’s behalf.

A non-UK resident wishing to import on their person a product or preparation containing a schedule 1 drug (lawfully prescribed to them in their country of residence) should contact the Home Office to enquire about applying for the relevant licence before they travel. This applies for any amount and any duration of travel.

Importing patient-prescribed medicines to the UK (which are not carried ‘on the person’)

If you are intending to import medicines prescribed to you from outside the UK, you will require a Home Office import licence to lawfully do this. The only exception to this is if you are carrying the drugs on your person and our ‘personal import’ policy applies (see above – applying for a licence: travellers carrying lawfully prescribed controlled drugs. If you are not carrying the drugs on your person, for example they are being sent via an international courier, you have to obtain the Home Office import licence. This applies to UK residents as well as non-UK residents who may only be staying in the UK temporarily (for example, students, workers or long-term visitors).

Controlled drugs – in schedules 2 to 4 (inclusive) of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 – typically contained in medicinal products include amphetamine, lisdexamphetamine and diazepam. Widely used painkillers containing hydrocodone, oxycodone or tramadol, and hormones such as testosterone and somatropin are also controlled.

Anyone wishing to import a product or preparation containing a schedule 1 drug on their person should contact the Home Office to apply for the relevant licence before they travel. This applies for any amount and any duration of travel.

This list is not exhaustive and your patient information leaflet should tell you the drug content of branded or generic medicines. Your doctor or pharmacist may advise if your medicine contains a controlled substance.

As legislation differs between countries, you should also check with the authorities in the exporting country to establish if an export licence is needed or any other requirements are necessary.

To obtain an import licence, you must to register for an NDS account (see below - applying for an NDS account). Once your registration has been approved, you may apply for an import licence.

Each licence costs £24. This must be paid for in advance and can only be used for one shipment. Your prescription and letter from your doctor will need to be uploaded for us to verify your application.

Please allow up to a maximum of 20 working days for us to verify and process your account and licence application, your payment and the posting of the licence to your address.

Licences cannot be issued retrospectively. Shipments that have been sent unlawfully may be seized by Border Force officials or held by courier companies. In these cases, they may be either destroyed or returned to sender.

Applying for a licence: companies

Before you apply

Before applying, all prospective and existing licence holders should read:

You should also:

If you (or any other individuals named on the application form) already have a DBS disclosure in place, obtained for drug licensing purposes through Security Watchdog (part of Capita PLC) within the last 3 years, you do not need to apply again.

DBS checks

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 enables the Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit (DFLU) to ask questions about spent convictions for assessing applicants’ suitability to obtain a licence.

DFLU has contracted Security Watchdog (part of Capita PLC) to provide a scheme to enable DFLU licence applicants to obtain DBS enhanced disclosures. A DBS disclosure guidebook is available from the Security Watchdog website.

To apply for a DBS enhanced disclosure contact Security Watchdog on: +44 (0) 1420 558 752 (Monday to Friday 9:00am to 5:30pm). During the call all aspects of the disclosure application process will be explained to you.

The contents of the DBS enhanced disclosures for all applicants named on the application form will also be taken into account in the decision as to whether or not to issue a licence.

If you have subscribed to the DSB ‘update service’ please include this information on your licence application and contact us for further information as to how this may be used.

Making your application

To apply, you must have successfully registered with us as a customer and have a username and password. If you have not registered with us before as a customer, please register using the controlled drugs and precursor chemicals registration. If you have already registered, please do not do so again.

Read the domestic licensing: application guidance to help you complete your application,

Existing licensees without a password should contact dflu.dom@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Once we have received your online application, it will be assessed to ensure that the security and record-keeping requirements have been met.

Please allow up to 16 weeks for your application to be processed. Compliance site visits – where one is needed – will only be arranged with applicants once the Home Office has received confirmation that everyone named on the application has undergone a DBS check.

By applying for a licence you are accepting that we may request reimbursement of any travel, accommodation or similar administrative costs incurred by the Home Office, either in full or in part should you:

  • cancel, or request an amendment to the time or date of a site visit, more than 48 hours after being informed of your site visit date
  • request that your application is withdrawn at or after a compliance visit has been undertaken
  • request that your application is withdrawn, after a decision has been reached on your application

Any cancellations or withdrawal of application requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis following the principles above. Copies of any cost incurred will be provided on request and any applicable fees payable within 10 working days.

Licensing: universities

University research departments generally do not require licences to possess and supply drugs in schedules 2, 3, 4 part I, 4 part II and schedule 5, but they do require licences to produce any of those drugs and to produce, possess and/or supply drugs in schedule 1.

Licensing: healthcare

Hospitals, care homes and providers of healthcare in other settings may only require licences for certain schedules and/or activities. This includes establishments operating as social enterprise organisations, community interest companies, and those with charitable status. Please see guidance on domestic controlled drug licensing in healthcare settings.

Licensing: retail pharmacies undertaking wholesale or supply activities

For certain groups, for example, pharmacists, the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 (2001 regulations) allow the possession, supply and production of drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 without the need for a Home Office controlled drug domestic licence (a limited licensing ‘exemption’). Similar provisions exist for persons conducting a retail pharmacy business.

Where a pharmacy requires a wholesale dealer’s licence from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for its activities, it would also require a Home Office controlled drug domestic licence.

To enquire about the need for a wholesale dealer’s licence, you should first email the MHRA info@mhra.gov.uk.

Licensing: forensic analysis and reference standards

A factsheet on forensic analysis and reference standards has been prepared to help those undertaking forensic analysis and/or handing reference standards understand when they need to hold a Home Office controlled drugs domestic licence.

Licensing: Cannabidiol (CBD)

A factsheet on cannabis, CBD and cannabinoids (PDF, 171KB, 5 pages) has been prepared to outline the applicable domestic control measures applicable to cannabis, CBD and controlled cannabinoids.

Licensing: ‘Schedule 2’ cannabis-based products (CBPMs) for medicinal use in humans

From 1 November 2018, specialist doctors can prescribe cannabis-based products for medicinal use in humans which fall within schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 without requiring a Home Office licence to lawfully write a prescription.

However, companies wishing to possess, supply, produce, manufacture and/or import/export these products will require Home Office controlled drug licences to lawfully undertake these activities, unless a limited ‘exemption’ applies to that licensing requirement. For example, a community pharmacy simply possessing a product for the sole purpose of dispensing to an individual patient may not require a licence to do so.

All applications are considered individually on their merits, following the drug licensing consideration process set out above. Prospective applicants must apply to register as a user of the Home Office Controlled Drugs Licensing System and should be prepared to fully explain how they propose to meet all applicable regulatory requirements to lawfully make a product available. If a drug licensing portal user registration is approved, a company can then submit their drug licensing application.

Cultivation of cannabis, irrespective of the THC content, remains an offence under section 6 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 unless under a Home Office license issued under regulation 12 of the Misuse of Drug Regulations 2001. The ‘industrial hemp’ licensing cultivation policy does not enable the use of ‘green’ or controlled materials (that is, the flowers and/or leaves) and is not applicable in these circumstances. Any proposal to cultivate cannabis materials to produce a schedule 2 CBPM will be individually considered on its merits and considered in accordance with the general drug licensing risk assessment process and other applicable regulatory considerations.

Mountain rescue teams

A factsheet has been prepared to assist mountain rescue teams, affiliated to either the Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW), the Scottish Mountain Rescue (SM) or Association of Independent Scottish Mountain Rescue Teams (ISMR), to understand their responsibilities related to controlled drug handling in mountain rescue situations. Please see mountain rescue teams: controlled drugs factsheet.

Industrial hemp

The industrial hemp licensing factsheet provides information to new and existing growers on the licensing process for low THC cannabis. This policy only enables the industrial use of non-controlled parts (that is, seed and fibre) of EU-approved varieties of ‘industrial hemp’. Licences issued under this policy will typically be valid for 3 growing seasons.

Making your application

You can apply for a domestic licence to produce, supply or possess controlled drugs. This website requires a password. Please read the industrial hemp licensing guidance.

If you have not registered with us before as a customer, please click controlled drugs and precursor chemicals registration. Existing licence holders should not register.

Existing licensees without a password should contact dflu.dom@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Annual hemp grower statement

All growers are required to complete and submit an annual hemp grower statement by 1 May each year.

Import and export licences

A company or organisation that intends to import or export controlled drugs or precursor chemicals may require a domestic licence before they can apply for an import or export licence.

It will also need a National Drugs Control System (NDS) account to apply for any import or export licences to facilitate international trades. The NDS is used to administer the import and export licensing regime of the UK.

Individual import and/or export licences are required every time a shipment takes place. Depending on the licence you require, you will need to apply online for a licence as soon as your NDS registration is complete. It is important to note that:

  • the import/export team will process applications in strict date order – companies should plan based on a 7-working-day processing time
  • all import licences are normally valid for 3 months
  • export licences will be valid for 2 months or in line with the importing country’s permit whichever expires first
  • you must also attach a copy of the import permit when requesting a UK export licence

Applying for an NDS account

NDS is designed to improve the processing times for licence applications and to assist in the capture of data for monitoring trade.

If you are applying for the first time having received your domestic licence, please provide us with the company details as approved on your company’s domestic licence.

You must obtain the relevant domestic licence before applying for an NDS account. If you do not have a valid domestic licence your request will be cancelled.

If you are not trading in controlled drugs but wish to trade in prescription-only medications (PoMs), please contact the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for guidance.

Once your account is approved, you will need to provide us with your overseas trading partners and details of your medicinal preparations.

You can download the user guide:

National Drugs Control System

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Applying for an import or export licence

Registered NDS users can apply for a licence here.

Restrictions on exports of controlled drugs

On 20 December 2011 the European Union adopted a new EU-wide control on the export of certain drugs usable in execution by lethal injection.

These controls which came into force on 21 December 2011 were adopted as an amendment to annex III of Council Regulation (EC) 1236/2005 concerning trade in certain goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (the so-called ‘Torture Regulation’).

As a result of these EU-imposed controls, exporters need to seek appropriate permission from national export control authorities to export to any destination outside the EU ‘short and intermediate acting barbiturate anaesthetic agents including, but not limited to’ the following controlled drugs:

  • amobarbital (CAS RN 57-43-2)
  • amobarbital sodium salt (CAS RN 64-43-7)
  • pentobarbital (CAS RN 76-74-4)
  • pentobarbital sodium salt (CAS 57-33-0)
  • secobarbital (CAS RN 76-73-3)
  • secobarbital sodium salt (CAS RN 309-43-3)

Exporters should refer to the guide on torture goods when exporting these drugs.

Regulations or provisions may also exist on a temporary or permanent basis to prevent the export of drugs or chemical materials to certain countries, for example at times of conflict. Prospective exporters must satisfy themselves that they are not contravening any other relevant provisions which may be in force.

Export of controlled drugs to the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands (Jersey and Guernsey) operate their own licensing regime for controlled drugs. For UK exporters, this means that shipments of controlled drugs from the mainland UK to the Channel Islands must be covered by an appropriately issued export licence.

Frequent exporters

Companies making 24 or more shipments in a 12-month period can apply for a time-limited blanket export licence with the following terms:

  • licences will be valid for a maximum period of one year
  • licenses may be replaced annually and fall for replacement on 1 November 2010, irrespective of their date of issue
  • licensees will be responsible for ensuring applications for further licences are submitted no less than 4 weeks before the expiry of their existing licences
  • there is no automatic replacement, it is the responsibility of the licensees to apply
  • the decisions to issue licences are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant factors at the time of the decision
  • the issue of a previous licence does not guarantee future issues

Use the frequent exporter licence application.

Occasional exporters

Exporters who make less than 24 shipments in a 12-month period will need to make an individual application for an export licence.

Occasional exporters will be required to apply for individual export authorisations for each consignment. Applications must be accompanied by a valid import permit from the competent authority.

Schedule 1 controlled drugs

Each shipment of schedule 1 controlled drugs will require:

  • an individual export authorisation application
  • a valid import permit from the requisite competent authorities
  • a domestic export licence

All exporters will be required to hold the relevant domestic controlled drug licenses for the appropriate schedules.

Monthly returns of exports to the Channel Islands

Exporters should complete the Channel Islands export monthly return form which must be sent to channel_islands@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Holders of frequent exporter licences must submit a monthly return form detailing the actual substances that have been shipped.

If you have not shipped for one month or more, then a nil return is required for each month that you have not shipped. If no monthly return form is received to cover each month you have held a licence, then your licence may be suspended.

Licence fees

Our fees are charged on a ‘full cost recovery’ basis. Fees are set at a level that allows the department to fully cover the cost of processing the application. Fees are payable for each licensing decision. The applicable fee levels are set out in the Misuse of Drugs (licence fees) Regulations 2010.

Controlled drug domestic licences: application fees for new controlled drug domestic licences

Licensable activity/activities Licence application fee
Possess controlled drugs £3,133
Supply, or offer to supply, controlled drugs £3,655
Produce preparations containing controlled drugs £4,178
Produce controlled drugs £4,700
Cultivate cannabis £4,700
Cultivate cannabis with a THC content not exceeding 0.2% £580

Renewal or replacement of an existing controlled drug domestic licence of any type

Visit is required/not required Licence renewal fee
Where no compliance visit is required £326
Where a compliance visit is necessary £1,371

Controlled drug import/export licences: application fees for new import/export drug licences

Licence type Licence application fee
Individual export licence £24
Individual import licence £24

Controlled drugs domestic and import/export licences: Replacement for a lost, defaced or damaged licence

Lost, defaced or damaged £45

How will fees be paid?

Fees for all domestic controlled drugs licences are ordinarily invoiced once a decision has been made on an application, but before a licence is issued. Invoices for domestic licences are sent via email to the invoicing contact on the application form.

Exceptionally, full payment of the applicable fee may be requested upon receipt of the application, and payment required before it is further considered. If this is applicable to your case, you will be notified by email at the earliest opportunity. Should you choose to withdraw your application at that stage, no fee will be payable. In the event of the refusal of a licence application, a refund of the fee paid will be provided, but please see the information relating to payment for costs incurred in Applying for a licence: companies - Making your application.

Fees for all import and export controlled drug licences are invoiced in arrears at the end of the month. Invoices for import and export licences are sent by email to the invoicing contact on the customer account.

If your organisation or company requires a purchase order (PO) number to be quoted, please ensure that you quote this at the point of the application being submitted or the invoice being raised. PO numbers can also be emailed to: dflu.fees@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Fee payment can be made using one of the following methods:

  • Bankers Automated Clearing Service (BACS)
  • Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS)
  • cheque
  • credit or debit card by calling Shared Service Connected Limited on 08450 100 125

Please ensure when making a payment that your invoice number is included, either on the cheque or in the reference section of your bank transfer.

Please send any remittance advice to:

Shared Service Connected Limited
HO Box 5003
Newport
NP20 9BB

Annual statistical returns

Wholesalers, manufacturers, producers and suppliers of controlled drugs must supply the Home Office with annual statistical returns on the specified form by 31 January each year. Please see the completion notes below for full details.

All other licence holders must submit a nil return by email, stating why they are not submitting a return, for example that they are not wholesalers.

You can email: annualdrugreturns@homeoffice.gov.uk

Thefts and losses of controlled drugs

Report any thefts or unaccounted losses to dflu.dom@homeoffice.gov.uk using the thefts and losses form.

How do I surrender my licence or registration?

A CD/PC licence return premise(s) closure statement should be used in situations where a company no longer requires their controlled drugs licence, precursor chemical licence or registration at the named premises written on their licence/registration. This includes site closures and companies that wish to no longer handle controlled drugs or precursor chemicals but are continuing to trade.

Controlled drugs licence return premise(s) closure statement

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Further information on drugs licensing

More publications are available in the drugs licensing series.

Personal information

You can read details of how we handle your personal information.

Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit (DFLU) contact details

Depending on your query, there are a number of ways to contact the DFLU.

Domestic licensing

This address deals with domestic (UK) controlled substance licenses including precursor chemicals, applications, renewals, compliance visits, thefts and losses, surrender or returning licence, or general enquiries about domestic licensing.

Import and export licensing

This address deals with the import and export of controlled substance into or from the UK, import and export licenses, applications, endorsements of licenses, or general enquiries about import and export licensing.

Licensing fees

This address deals with fees, invoices and billing queries for drugs licensing, domestic and import/export.

Customer complaints

This address deals with customer complaints about import and export, or domestic licensing of controlled drug, precursor chemical or industrial hemp licensing.

Organisation chart for specific sections of DFLU

For more general queries, you can write to the DFLU at this address:

Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DF

Published 26 March 2013
Last updated 23 November 2018 + show all updates
  1. Multiple changes to update out-of-date content and correct email addresses. Also updated the factsheet on cannabis, CBD and cannabinoids, and the thefts and losses form.
  2. Updated text relating to the cannabis based products for medicinal use in humans.
  3. Application guidance for clinicians published.
  4. Added information about the expert panel on cannabis-based medicinal products.
  5. Added information about access to 'Schedule 1' cannabis-based medicines.
  6. Added details on personal information.
  7. Added a link to the registration form.
  8. Factsheet published on the applicable domestic control measures applicable to cannabis, cannabidiol (CBD) and controlled cannabinoids.
  9. Added National Drugs Control System guide.
  10. Replaced the thefts and losses form on this page, as it had an old email address.
  11. Telephone number for DBS enhanced disclosure updated.
  12. Export licence applications guidance updated.
  13. List of controlled drugs updated.
  14. Contact details for Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit updated. Information about licence fees updated.
  15. Information about reimbursement and refund policy added.
  16. Updated hemp grower's statement published.
  17. Annual returns completion notes 2015 and returns form published.
  18. Fees information updated.
  19. Security Watchdog phone number updated.
  20. Technical problems with customer applications.
  21. Guidance on importing patient-prescribed medicines added.
  22. Guidance on licensee compliance statements updated.
  23. Factsheet on forensic analysis published.
  24. Form for surrendering licence published.
  25. First published.