Guidance on the European Union regulation on explosives precursors, including licensing, labelling and reporting suspicious activity
The Control of Explosives Precursors etc. Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014 came into force on 2 September 2014. The Regulations were introduced so that Northern Ireland complies with Regulation (EU) 98/2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors (the ‘Precursors Regulation’), while maintaining the existing explosives precursors controls that have been in place since the 1970s. Some of the substances being controlled have legitimate uses. It is important that we protect against their misuse, while still allowing legitimate use.
There are 3 ways that we protect against misuse:
- By requiring individuals to have a licence before they can deal with these substances
- By requiring suppliers to label substances provided to members of the public, alerting them to the fact they are restricted
- By requiring suppliers of these substances to report any suspicious activity they become aware of
Substances requiring a licence fall into 2 tiers.
Tier 1 substances require a licence for supply, acquisition, possession, use or import into Northern Ireland. There are some exceptions to the requirement for a licence when the substances are contained in a mixture in certain concentrations, which are listed in full in Schedule 1 to the 2014 Regulations.
The tier 1 substances are:
- ammonium nitrate
- calcium ammonium nitrate
- potassium nitrate
- sodium nitrate
- sodium chlorate
Tier 2 substances require members of the public to have a valid licence to possess, acquire, use or import into Northern Ireland above the concentration limit specified in Annex 1 to the Precursors Regulation.
The tier 2 substances are:
- hydrogen peroxide 12% w/w
- nitro methane 30% w/w
- nitric acid 3% w/w
- potassium chlorate 40% w/w
- sodium perchlorate 40% w/w
- potassium perchlorate 40% w/w
Substances requiring reporting
All tier 1 and tier 2 substances, together with the additional substances specified in Annex 2 to the Precursors Regulation, are subject to a requirement to report suspicious transactions and significant disappearances and thefts. The additional substances are:
- sulphuric acid
- calcium nitrate
- aluminium powder
- magnesium powder
- magnesium nitrate hexahydrate
Products of particular interest are those in which a substance is either present on its own or is the main ingredient, or where a substance is present in a simple mixture, typically of less than five ingredients.
Tier 1 substances require a licence for all purposes, including possession; use; acquisition; supply or import into Northern Ireland. It does not matter whether a person is acting for business or private purposes, a licence is required in order to deal with these substances. Individuals with a licence have special obligations towards keeping records and obtaining police consent for transactions over a certain weight or measure. Any breach of the regulations may result in prosecution and/or revocation of licences.
Members of the public require a licence for tier 2 substances. The EU Precursors Regulation prohibits the acquisition, possession or use of certain substances by members of the public, but allows member States to permit controlled access to these substances under a licensing or registration system. In Northern Ireland, private individuals cannot possess, acquire, use or import tier 2 substances unless they have a licence. Any breach of the regulations may result in prosecution and/or revocation of licences.
It is a criminal offence for a person who requires a licence to possess, acquire, use or import tier 1 or tier 2 substances without such a licence. If found guilty of such an offence, there is a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine. It is also a criminal offence to supply tier 1 and tier 2 substances to any person who requires, but does not hold, a valid licence. Any breach of the regulations may result in prosecution.
Changes to licensing from 1 January 2021 for EPP licence holders
Following the completion of the UK’s transition period in leaving the EU, an Explosives Precursors and Poisons (EPP) licence issued by the Home Office will no longer be recognised in Northern Ireland. As a result, you will no longer be able to use your EPP licence to acquire, import, possess or use tier 2 explosives precursors in Northern Ireland. These changes will apply to all current and future licence holders. If you do wish to acquire, import, possess or use explosives precursors in Northern Ireland, you will be required to apply for a Northern Ireland Licence. You should follow the guidance contained in this guide. EPP licences will continue to be recognised in England, Wales and Scotland.
EPP licences can include substances classified as poisons. In Northern Ireland, poisons are the responsibility of the devolved administration. Should you wish to acquire, import, possess or use poisons in Northern Ireland you should direct any queries in this regard to the Northern Ireland Department of Health
An Explosives Precursor licence for tier 1 substances continues to be required in Northern Ireland for both residents of Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
An application form for licences can be downloaded from this guide. It is important that forms are completed in full, as incomplete applications may result in licences being delayed or refused.
All licence applications, including renewal applications must be accompanied by one of the following valid forms of identification:
- Passport issued by the UK, an EEA State or another country or territory
- National identity card issued by an EEA State
- Great Britain or Northern Ireland photo-card driving licence
- UK biometric immigration document
- Electoral identity card
Applicants may be asked to provide further documentation in support of an application. For example, you may be asked to provide a medical certificate from your doctor.
The fee for the grant of a tier 1 licence is £100 and for a tier 2 licence it is £35. A single licence may be granted for more than one substance. A single licence may also be issued for both tier 1 and tier 2 substances.
A re-grant of both tier 1 and tier 2 licences will cost £35, as long as none of the storage arrangements has changed.
Full details of the fees structure is covered in regulation 6 of the Control of Explosives Precursors etc. Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2014.
Payment should be made for licences by BACS or cheque. Cheques should be made payable to ‘Northern Ireland Office’. Applicants paying by BACS should use the following details:
- Sort Code: 950121
- Account Code: 20299715
- Ref: Name of payee, or licence ref (if known)
- The account holder: NIO
- Bank: Danske Bank
The remittance advice should be emailed to email@example.com.
Other methods of payment are not accepted.
Payment must be made with the licence application. Payments are non-refundable. In the event that a cheque is returned without funds being cleared, the licence application will be cancelled.
Consideration by the Secretary of State
In deciding whether to grant or amend a licence, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must have regard to all the circumstances of the case, including:
- the intended use of the substance
- the availability of alternative substances that would achieve the same purpose
- the proposed arrangements to ensure that the substance is kept securely
- any danger to public safety or public order that may be caused by the applicant dealing with the substance
- whether the applicant (and the responsible person) is a fit and proper person to deal with the substance
In relation to intended use, the Secretary of State may consider whether there is evidence to support the stated purpose of use, such as links to the applicant’s occupation or hobbies. The applicant may be required to provide additional information about the intended use.
If the applicant is aware of alternative substances that would achieve the same purpose, their application should provide further information about why it is not suitable or desirable.
The PSNI will carry out background checks on persons applying for a licence in respect of tier 1 or tier 2 substances to assess their fitness to deal with the substances, and ascertain whether they present any danger to public safety or public order.
When considering an application or revocation of a licence, the Secretary of State will take into account whether a person has been involved in, or is suspected of being involved in criminal activity, and will consider any previous convictions, cautions or ongoing criminal proceedings. In particular, any conviction which involves the use, planned use or threatened use of explosives or a disregard for public safety will be relevant. Convictions or cautions relating to a previous failure to comply with a licence for explosives precursors (taking account of the seriousness of the offence) will also be relevant.
Other information indicating involvement in serious criminal offences, especially those involving the use, planned use, or threatened use of explosives, or evidence of association with those who have had unlawful involvement with explosives, may also be relevant.
Where an applicant is a foreign national or has lived overseas, enquiries may be made with the authorities of that country (through Interpol or other agencies) for example, to check if the applicant has a criminal record overseas that would have a bearing on their fitness. This includes applicants from overseas who have been granted British citizenship.
Where an applicant has previous convictions or cautions, or where any information received casts doubt on their fitness, the Secretary of State may consider whether to approach agencies likely to have had involvement with them; such as the probation service or social services. The Secretary of State will ensure that such enquiries are focused on ascertaining whether there is any further evidence that the person is unfit to deal with an explosives precursor.
The Secretary of State will also give consideration to cases where a GP’s report reveals that an applicant has exhibited, or is exhibiting, signs of depression, suicidal tendencies, long-standing or intermittent periods of either emotional instability or unpredictable behaviour. This would include individuals who had been detained under the civil powers of the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 because their behaviour posed a risk to the public. Particular attention will be paid to anyone who has previously been subject to a hospital order, guardianship order or restriction order under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 1983 following the commission of offences.
Where an applicant has declared on their application form that they have suffered from a mental or nervous disorder, they may be asked to provide a report from their GP. A history of past treatment for certain illnesses or conditions, such as depression or stress, does not automatically mean a person is unfit to possess an explosives precursor. It is simply one of the factors to be considered with all other evidence relating to the applicant’s character and history. In such cases, account will be taken of the latest medical opinion.
Any history of serious incidents involving explosives precursors, including their loss, or a careless approach to their handling, will receive close consideration.
Cooperation with the licensing authority and the PSNI during the application process will also be taken into account. The following examples may indicate that a person has not complied with the need to cooperate:
- The making of abusive or threatening phone calls to the staff of the Secretary of State
- Refusal to permit an authorised police officer to inspect licensed explosives precursors or arrangements for the secure keeping of the substance
- Failure to respond to requests for information or to reply to correspondence
Decisions on fitness to possess a precursor will be made on an assessment of all the relevant information and on the individual merits of each case.
The factors that are relevant to the fitness of an applicant may also be relevant to consideration of whether there is danger to public safety or public order if they deal with a substance. However, even where the Secretary of State does not have concern about an applicant’s fitness, their circumstances might be such that they pose a risk to public safety or public order. Relevant considerations include whether other people will have access to the substances, and their location and intended use. The security of proposed storage arrangements will also be relevant in assessing the danger to public safety or public order.
In relation to both tier 1 and tier 2 substances, the applicant is expected to provide information about the arrangements for their secure storage. The Secretary of State is required to have regard to these arrangements when considering licence applications. In relation to tier 1 substances, the PSNI will inspect the storage arrangements and advise the Secretary of State on their adequacy. The Secretary of State may also take advice from other bodies or agencies. Whether storage arrangements are judged to be sufficiently secure will depend on the specific circumstances in each case, in particular the quantity and nature of the substance concerned. In the absence of secure storage arrangements, the application for a licence may be refused.
Licence holders must also comply with any applicable storage requirements under health and safety law, and guidance for substances in their possession. For further information about health and safety requirements, please contact the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland.
All licence holders must:
- Permit inspection of the licence, the substance or the place of storage when requested by the Secretary of State or PSNI
- Provide the Secretary of State or the PSNI with information when requested
- Notify the Secretary of State if the licence is lost or stolen, or if the licence holder changes address or is charged or convicted of an offence, or if there is any other material change of circumstances
- Return any expired licence, or a licence which has been amended, varied, suspended or revoked, to the Secretary of State
- Provide the licence for inspection when acquiring a substance
Individuals who hold a tier 1 substance licence must apply in writing for police consent for the acquisition, transport, import into Northern Ireland, or supply for dispatch or export, of more than 500g by weight or 500ml by measure of the substance. The application must be made on an approved form that contains the name and address of the supplier and is signed by the applicant, and must usually be submitted no less than 14 days before the transaction. The forms to apply for police consent can be downloaded below. Consent forms are also available from local PSNI explosives inspectors.
Individuals who hold a tier 1 substance licence must complete a record of each acquisition, supply or import into Northern Ireland. This should contain the type and date of the transaction, the nature and quantity of the substance, and the name and address of the other party involved (the acquirer or supplier). The record must be completed at the time of the transaction and include a separate entry for each different substance. The record must be retained for 2 years and provided to the Secretary of State or an authorised officer for inspection on request. Licence holders must also retain all documents relating to transactions for 2 years.
Supplying explosives precursors
A licence is required before tier 1 substances can be supplied to any professional or private user. The supplier also needs to have a licence. Police consent will be necessary for transactions involving a quantity greater than 500g by weight or 500ml by measure of a tier 1 substance.
Members of the public must show a valid explosive precursors licence and associated photo ID before they can be supplied with any tier 2 substances. There is no requirement for the supplier to be licensed in relation to tier 2 substances.
Suspicious transactions, disappearances and thefts
Suppliers have a duty under the Precursors Regulation to report suspicious transactions, disappearances and thefts involving any tier 1, tier 2 or reportable substances or mixtures to one of the following numbers:
- 0800 789 321 (anti-terrorist hotline)
- 101 (PSNI)
- 0800 555 111 (Crimestoppers)
- 999 (for emergencies only).
Alternatively, reports may emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
A ‘suspicious transaction’ refers to any transaction where there are reasonable grounds to suspect the substance or mixture is intended for the illicit manufacture of explosives. In other words, it means any transaction which deviates from ordinary expectations or interactions. Suppliers have the right to refuse a suspicious transaction and must report it. It is a criminal offence to fail to report a suspicious transaction. Suppliers must also report significant disappearances and thefts from their business.
Detailed guidance for suppliers on reporting obligations is available in the European Commission guidelines.
If a person requests to acquire a substance for which a licence is required, as the supplier you should:
- ask to see their licence and associated photographic ID
- compare the photograph to the customer
- check the product to be purchased is allowed as part of the licence conditions, including type, concentration and quantity
- record the transaction details in the table on the back of the licence
If you are unable to verify the licence you must not supply the substance.
If the transaction is suspicious or unusual in any way you should report it as advised above. For example, there may have been multiple purchases of the same chemical over a short period that cannot be easily explained, or the customer may be requesting unusual amounts for the stated purpose.
The Precursors Regulation requires products offered for sale to the general public to be appropriately labelled if they contain the substances in Annex I in concentrations above the threshold limit values. The label must state: ‘Acquisition, possession or use by the general public is restricted’ and must be in English, in addition to any other language.
The restricted substances which need to be labelled are:
- hydrogen peroxide (tier 2)
- nitro methane (tier 2)
- nitric acid (tier 2)
- potassium chlorate (tier 2)
- potassium perchlorate (tier 2)
- sodium chlorate (tier 1)
- sodium perchlorate (tier 2)
Where a person intends to supply these substances to a member of the public, it is their responsibility to ensure the restriction is clearly indicated on the packaging.
All operators along the supply chain need to be aware that a substance or mixture is restricted. A simple way to fulfil this legal obligation is through a collaborative approach. Commercial contracts between operators could ensure the relevant information is transmitted from suppliers to retailers. The supplier packaging the product prior to its entry into the supply chain may be best placed to affix the label, but ultimately the obligation is on the person who supplies the product to the end user.
Most of the products that require labelling under the Precursors Regulation will also need to be labelled according to EU Regulation 1272/2008 (CLP) due to their hazardous properties. In these cases, the Precursors Regulation labelling should be placed in the section for supplementary information within the CLP label.
Detailed guidance for suppliers is available in the European Commission guidelines.
Frequently asked questions
Retailers/other suppliers to the public
Do I need a licence to supply substances listed in the Precursors Regulation?
You need to have a licence to supply tier 1 substances to any person. However, you don’t need a licence to supply any of the other controlled substances.
If you supply tier 1 or tier 2 substances (whether for payment or free of charge) to a person who requires a licence for acquisition, you are responsible for checking their licence and identification and recording the transaction on the back of the licence. You are also responsible for reporting suspicious transactions, significant thefts and losses of any controlled substances at any concentration. If you supply a tier 1 substance, you are also responsible for checking if police consent has been obtained and keeping your own record of the transaction.
What documentation do I need to check before completing the supply of a tier 1 or tier 2 substances?
You need to check that the person acquiring the substance has a valid licence and photographic ID, specifically a passport, EEA national identity card, photocard driving licence from Northern Ireland or Great Britain, biometric immigration document or electoral identity card. You also need to ensure that the acquisition is consistent with the conditions on the licence, and you need to fill out the log on the back of the licence.
What is a suspicious transaction?
A suspicious transaction could be anything out of the ordinary. For example:
- The customer does not fit the usual profile of your customers
- The order is unusual
- The customer familiarity with the products and their use is dubious
- The customer is being evasive
- The customer is trying to pay in cash in circumstances where you would expect them to pay in some other way
- The customer’s documents are not in order
How do I report a suspicious transaction?
Suspicious transactions should be reported to one of the following numbers:
- 0800 789 321 (anti-terrorist hotline)
- 101 (PSNI)
- 0800 555 111 (crimestoppers)
- 999 (for emergencies only).
Alternatively, reports may emailed to email@example.com
What happens if I supply tier 1 or tier 2 substances without checking the purchaser has a valid licence?
It is an offence to supply tier 1 or tier 2 substances to a person requiring a licence without checking they have a valid licence. If you do so, you may be liable to up to 2 years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
FAQs: Wholesale suppliers
Do I need a licence to acquire a substance listed in the Precursors Regulation?
You need a licence to acquire a tier 1 substance. However, tier 2 substances are only subject to licensing for individuals, not businesses. The remaining substances in the Precursors Regulation are not subject to licensing.
Why do I need a licence to buy or sell tier 1 substances?
Tier 1 chemicals have been tightly controlled since the early 1970s as they have been used in terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland and across the UK. It is necessary for these tighter controls to remain in place to ensure the safety of the public.
What constitutes police consent?
You are required to obtain the consent of the Chief Constable (or a person authorised to act his behalf) for the acquisition, transport within Northern Ireland, import into Northern Ireland or supply for export or dispatch outside Northern Ireland of more than 500g by weight or 500ml by measure of a tier 1 substance. You must apply for consent at least 14 days in advance of the transaction, unless the Chief Constable agrees a shorter period. The application must be on the approved form, which is available from this guide.
What happens if I don’t keep records of transactions?
Failure to keep the records required under the legislation is an offence. If you do so, you may be liable to up to 2 years imprisonment, a fine, or both. And your licence may be revoked.
What happens if the responsible person in my company leaves the business?
If the named responsible person leaves your business, you must apply to the Secretary of State to amend the licence with details of the new responsible person. See the section on applications for further information.
I only supply products to other businesses, am I still responsible for reporting suspicious transactions?
Yes, all suspicious transactions, significant losses and thefts need to be reported.
FAQs: Members of the public
I have a quantity of a tier 2 substance in my possession that was obtained before 2 September 2014. Am I allowed to use this or do I need to dispose of it?
You can possess and use tier 2 substances that are already in your possession until 2 March 2016. You will not be allowed to acquire any more of the substance without a valid licence and approved photographic identification. From 3 March 2016, you will also require a licence in order to possess and use tier 2 substances, even if they have been in your possession for some time.
Why do I need a licence for tier 2 substances?
The Precursors Regulation prohibits acquisition and import of tier 2 substances by members of the public (and, from 3 March 2016, possession and use), unless the person has a licence. If you wish to acquire these substances for use in hobbies or past times you must obtain a licence, or you will be committing a criminal offence.
What kinds of checks are carried out before I can be issued with a licence for a tier 1 substance or a tier 2 substance?
The PSNI will carry out background checks on individuals applying for tier 1 and tier 2 licences on behalf of the Secretary of State. This is to assess whether you are a fit person to whom a licence can be entrusted, and whether there would be any danger to public safety or public order if you are permitted to deal with the substances. Checks will include criminal records and medical information. Where the licence is for a tier 1 substance, the PSNI will also examine the storage arrangements for the substances on behalf of the Secretary of State.
I have a previous conviction. Does that mean I will not be granted a licence?
Not necessarily. Each case will be judged on its own merit so a criminal record does not necessarily mean that you would be refused a licence. For example, previous convictions for offences involving explosives, firearms or serious violence may result in an application being refused, but previous convictions for traffic offences are less likely to result in an application being refused.
I have been refused the grant of a licence. Can I appeal this decision?
You can ask the Secretary of State to re-consider this decision. You will need to make an application for an internal review using the form below.
If you disagree with the Secretary of State’s decision on internal review, you can challenge that decision by judicial review. Information on seeking a judicial review can be obtained from the NI Courts and Tribunals Service
I have a licence that was issued in Great Britain. Can I use it to purchase a tier 2 substance in Northern Ireland?
From 1 January 2021, licences issued by the Home Office are no longer recognised in Northern Ireland. You will need to apply to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for another licence should you wish to acquire, import, possess or use explosive precursors in Northern Ireland.
Why are fees different for tier 1 and tier 2 substances?
The licence fee for a tier 1 substance is higher than that for a tier 2 substance because the PSNI will need to inspect the premises where the tier 1 substance is to be stored. The PSNI may also conduct a site visit in particular cases involving tier 2 substances, but the fee will not be increased if this occurs.
I am an existing licence holder for a tier 1 substance. Do I need to apply for a new licence or a renewal.
We will be writing to existing licence holders in due course to renew their licences. The fee that will be payable is the re-grant fee of £35.
Do I have to pay a fee if I change my address?
Yes, due to the administrative costs of issuing a new licence, a fee is payable for any change to the licence. The level of the fee payable depends on the change being made. See the fees section of the regulations for further information.
I have been refused the grant of a licence. Is my fee refundable?
No, fees for licence applications are non-refundable.
FAQs: General questions
How long does a licence last for?
Licences for tier 1 and 2 substances will be issued for up to 3 years. The specific period may vary, depending on the applicant.
How long will it take for my application to be dealt with?
It will usually take about 6 weeks for licences to be issued following an initial application. This allows time for the PSNI to carry out the necessary checks and for the application to be considered and the licence issued. In many cases the licence will be issued sooner than 6 weeks, but in unusual cases it may take longer. If you have a specific reason for your application to be expedited, you should state this on the form, but it will not be possible to guarantee a particular timeframe.
Why are licences for tier 1 substances no longer open ended?
In accordance with the Precursors Regulation, licences can be issued for a maximum of 3 years before renewal. The licence validity period in respect of tier 1 substances is consistent with that requirement.
What happens if I lose my licence?
If your licence is lost or stolen, you must notify the Secretary of State as soon as possible. It is an offence to fail to notify the Secretary of State of a lost or stolen licence. You should also indicate whether you want the licence to be cancelled or replaced. A fee of £15 will be charged for the replacement of lost or stolen licences.
Queries in writing should be made to:
National Security Casework and Protection
Security and Protection Group
Stormont House Annexe
For further information you can email us at TheSecretary@nio.gov.uk