Guidance

Precursor chemical licensing

Licence and registration application information for companies that deal in precursor chemicals.

Overview

The effective control of chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances is an important tool in combating drug trafficking. These chemicals, known as ‘drug precursors’, also have legitimate commercial uses as they are legally used in a wide variety of industrial processes and consumer products, such as medicines, flavourings and fragrances.

It is necessary to recognise and protect the legal trade in these substances, while at the same time discouraging their diversion for illicit purposes. Drug precursor chemicals should not be confused with Explosive precursor chemicals which are controlled under a separate regime.

Categories

Regulation of drug precursors covers a number of chemical substances which are divided into 4 categories:

  • category 1 covers the most sensitive substances (the ‘main’ drug precursors)
  • category 2 covers less sensitive substances and some pre-precursors
  • category 3 covers bulk chemicals that can have different types of uses in the manufacturing process (for example, as feedstock, solvents or impurities removers)
  • category 4 covers medicinal products of some category 1 substances

With the exception of category 4 drug precursor chemicals, the legislation generally excludes medicinal products for human use, but covers all natural products and preparations (or mixtures) containing at least one scheduled substance, provided that they can be extracted by ‘readily applicable or economically viable means’.

The list of precursors and chemicals frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances under control are defined by the United Nations International Control Board.

Read the Drug precursor chemicals_category and CN code (ODT, 141KB)

The basis for precursor control is to be found in the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances adopted in Vienna on 19 December 1988.

UN convention

Article 12 of the convention specifically covers ‘substances frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances’ and requires that countries implement measures to control and monitor the legitimate trade in drug precursors as an essential way to prevent their diversion.

Legislation

The convention is implemented through the following legislation:

Definitions

The terms used in this guidance are defined as:

Placing on the market: any supply, whether in return for payment or free of charge, of scheduled substances; or the storage, manufacture, production, processing, trade, distribution or brokering of these substances for the purpose of supply.

Operator: any natural or legal person engaged in the placing on the market of scheduled substances.

Responsible officer: operators are required to appoint an officer responsible for the trade in scheduled substances. The officer shall be empowered to represent the operator and to ensure that the trade conducted takes place in compliance of regulations.

Guarantor: another senior person in the company that agrees to guarantee the responsible officer’s performance of their obligations.

Domestic licensing

Domestic licences are required for any companies that possess, manufacture, produce or supply drugs precursor chemicals in England, Wales or Scotland. Domestic licensing requirements apply to Category 1, 2 and 3 drug precursor chemicals.

Domestic licensing requirements for operators in precursors can be found on the Precursor chemicals wallchart for domestic licensing.

You must hold a valid domestic licence to be able to apply for an import-export licence.

Before you apply

To apply, you first need to register as a customer on the controlled drugs licensing system. If your application is successful, you will receive a username and password. You do not need to register again each time you apply.

If you have forgotten your login details or need your password reset, please email dflu.dom@homeoffice.gov.uk.

You must make sure that each person named on the application form holds a valid Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. The DBS check must be done by Security Watchdog. You can contact them on 01420 558 752 to apply for one. If you have a DBS check by another company, we cannot accept your certificate.

If you, or anyone named on the application, already has a DBS check in place for the purpose of drug licensing dated 3 years or older from Security Watchdog you will need to apply for a new DBS check.

If you have subscribed to the DBS update service, you should include this information in your licence application.

Apply for a domestic licence

Before starting your application all prospective and existing licence holders should have the following information and documents ready:

  • the company registration document from Companies House (if applicable)
  • a valid Disclosure and Barring Service (completed via Security Watchdog) reference number and date of issue for the responsible officer and guarantor
  • a certificate of good conduct for the responsible officer – this should be a brief letter signed by another officer of the company such as the guarantor and should, for example, confirm that the responsible officer is a fit and proper person to act as the responsible officer for precursor chemicals; they may also wish to state how long the responsible officer has worked for the company, the role they hold and a statement on how they have carried out their duties
  • a purchase order (PO) number (if applicable to your company or organisation) for invoicing purposes
  • knowledge of the PC substances and categories

Read the application guidance to help you complete your application.

Apply for a domestic licence to produce, supply or possess controlled drugs.

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

Fees

Our fees cover the costs of processing an application and are charged per licensing decision. The fee levels are set out in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2010. Read the full list of fees for drugs precursor chemicals licences.

After you apply

Allow up to 16 weeks for us to process your application, from the point at which it is accepted by us as complete. If your precursor chemicals licence or registration is approved, you will receive an email with instructions for payment. We will not issue your licence until the fee is paid. Once you have paid, the licence will be issued. Domestic precursor licences and registrations specify the substances within the category which you are permitted to handle. If you need to amend these after a licence has been issued to you, you will need to submit an application for a further licence and a fee will be payable.

Compliance visits

We may need to visit your company to check for compliance with precursor chemicals regulations. We will only arrange a visit if everyone listed on the application has a valid DBS check and we have received any additional information we have requested be supplied before that visit takes place.

If you cancel your application

We consider how much to charge for cancellations case by case. You may be charged any costs already owed, relating to administration, travel or accommodation arrangements, if:

  • you cancel a compliance visit more than 48 hours after it is confirmed
  • you request to change the time or date of a compliance visit more than 48 hours after it is confirmed
  • you cancel your application after you receive an outcome from us

We may also ask for our administrative costs to be paid within 10 working days. We can email you extra information about these costs.

End-user declarations

Regulations require that operators who supply category 1 substances are required to obtain a declaration from the end-user specifying the intended use of that substance.

Declarations relating to the supply of category 2 substances are dependent on the level of trade involved.

Import and export licensing

Import and export licences are required for companies for the movement of any drug precursor chemicals that are imported or exported to and from GB and, in some cases, Northern Ireland.

The import-export licensing requirements for trading in precursor chemicals can be found on the Precursor chemical export and import authorisation. Please read the section on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure you are familiar with any changes to licensing requirements after 1 January 2021.

Before you apply

You need an NDS account to apply for an import or export licence. You can read the user guide for more information on what to do.

You will need a domestic licence covering the specific chemical for which you are applying before you can apply for an NDS account. If you do not have a valid domestic licence your request will be cancelled. Once your account is approved you will need to tell us about your overseas trading partners and details of your controlled drug preparations.

Please read the import and export section.

Fees

Read the full list of fees for drugs precursor chemicals licences.

All fees for import and export licences are invoiced in arrears at the end of the month. If fee invoices for import-export licences are not promptly settled we will not process further import-export licence applications until all outstanding invoices are paid.

Apply for an import or export licence

Import licences are valid for 3 months. Export licences are valid for either 2 months or in line with the permit of the importing country, whichever expires first. You need to apply for a new import or export licence for each individual shipment. Licences cannot be post-dated or retrospectively issued.

If you are applying for a UK export licence you must include a copy of the import permit or it will be rejected.

If you are applying for a Category 1 import licence you must upload a completed version of the proforma (MS Word Document, 58.8KB) and your domestic licence with your application or it will be rejected.

Pre-export notification (PEN): waiting period

The vast majority of export authorisation applications are subject to a pre-export notification (PEN) process. The proposed shipment is electronically notified between competent authorities by way of the pre-export notification (PEN) system; applicants need not apply separately for this.

This process takes up to 17 working days and a decision is reached regarding authorisation of the shipment after this process is completed. The competent authorities may refuse the import or export of the substance if there are grounds for suspecting that diversion might occur.

Please note this time is in addition to the standard DFLU import-export licencing processing time for applications not subject to the PEN process (up to 10 working days). You must therefore allow time for both the licence processing time and the PEN waiting period when planning your intended shipments.

Endorsements

A condition of all import and export licences issued by the Home Office is for an immediate online endorsement of the actual shipment amounts to be made on the NDS web portal, once they have been shipped.

If you do not regularly submit timely endorsements we will not process further licence applications from you.

Annual statistical returns

If you are a wholesaler, manufacturer, producer or supplier of controlled drugs or drug precursor chemicals you must send a completed annual returns form each year, to annualdrugreturns@homeoffice.gov.uk.

Read the guidance about annual statistical returns.

Trading in drug precursor chemicals between Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The United Kingdom left the European Union on 31 January 2020 and the transition period’ existed to allow businesses to prepare for any regulatory changes. This transition period ended on 31 December 2020.

The Northern Ireland Protocol formed part of our ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ and affects the future trading relationship between Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland (NI) for drug precursor chemical control.

For the purposes of drug precursor chemical control, NI will continue to apply European Union regulations, while GB will not. This means NI companies trading with European Union Member States will not require import or export licences as this is considered ‘intra-community trade’.

However, trade between GB and NI will be subject to licensing in accordance with the requirements in Precursor chemical export and import authorisation. This includes ‘category 4’ drug precursor chemicals, namely Medicinal Preparations of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

The Drug and Firearms Licensing Unit continues to act as the UK Competent Authority for drug precursor chemical control. Both GB and NI companies should apply to the Drugs and Firearms Licensing Unit for their licences using the links above.

Companies therefore need to submit an end-user declaration form to their supplier:

Thefts and losses

You can report any theft or unaccounted losses of controlled drugs by email to dflu.dom@homeoffice.gov.uk using the thefts and losses form.

Licence no longer needed

If your company no longer needs a controlled drugs or precursor chemicals licence or registration you will need to submit a controlled drugs licence return premises closure statement.

Even if you continue to trade but no longer handle controlled drugs or precursor chemicals you will need to submit a statement. This includes site closures.

Personal information

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

Contact details

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

Domestic licensing

Email dflu.dom@homeoffice.gov.uk

or call 0300 105 4848

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

Email dflu.ie@homeoffice.gov.uk

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.

Customer complaints

Email dflu.complaints@homeoffice.gov.uk

This address deals with customer complaints about import and export, or domestic licensing of controlled drug, precursor chemical or industrial hemp licensing. You should first attempt to resolve any issues initially with either the domestic licensing or import-export team directly using the contact details above.

Published 26 March 2013
Last updated 25 May 2021 + show all updates
  1. Telephone number for domestic licensing enquiries updated.

  2. Updated one of the drug precursor chemical names in the document.

  3. Domestic licensing and import-export licensing wallcharts updated to reflect changes to legislation since the UK left the EU.

  4. Updated to reflect changes due to the end of the transition period.

  5. Licence application link reinstated.

  6. Added a message about the current problems with the licence application system.

  7. Added a message to say there are problems with accessing licence application system.

  8. Updated precursor chemicals: annual returns form.

  9. Updated the Precursor chemicals annual returns section, replaced the document with a revised one.

  10. Multiple changes to update out-of-date content, correct email addresses, add contact details and update the thefts and losses form.

  11. Section "Brexit planning" added and email addresses updated.

  12. Added details on personal information.

  13. Telephone number for DBS enhanced disclosures updated.

  14. Information about licence fees updated

  15. Fees information updated.

  16. Security Watchdog number updated.

  17. Technical problems with customer applications

  18. Form for surrendering licence or registration published.

  19. First published.