Precursor chemical licensing
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 ‘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. The objective therefore is to strike a balance between avoiding the restriction of legitimate trade and actions taken to prevent the illicit manufacture of drugs.
For example, ‘piperonal’ is a substance used in the manufacture of perfumes, flavourings, and anti-mosquito products. However it can also be used in the illicit production of synthetic drugs like ecstasy and methamphetamine. Acetic anhydride is used in the chemical, photographic and pharmaceutical industries, but it is also used as the acetylating agent in the production of heroin.
Regulation of precursors covers 23 chemical substances which are divided into 3 categories:
- category 1 covers the most sensitive substances (the ‘key’ drug precursors)
- category 2 covers less sensitive substances and 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)
The legislation 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.
Please see the precursor chemicals wallchart for domestic licensing:
In the United Kingdom the two statutory instruments that impose licence and reporting obligations on those dealing in scheduled substances are:
- Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Intra-Community Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 295)
- Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Community External Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 296)
It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with the requirements of these regulations. The penalties for non-compliance are detailed on the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) website.
Reporting thefts and losses of precursor chemicals
All thefts and losses must be reported.
Download the thefts and losses form.
Precursor chemicals annual returns
The Home Office reports annually to the International Narcotics Control Board on the manufacture, supply, importation, exportation and destruction of all controlled drugs and precursor chemicals within the UK. All establishments involved in these activities in respect of controlled drugs and precursor chemicals must complete annual return forms.
The subject line should be completed as follows YYYY-MM-DD - PRECURSOR CHEMICALS ANNUAL RETURNS 2013 (COMPANY NAME). For example: 2013-01-31- PRECURSOR CHEMICALS ANNUAL RETURNS 2013 - Joe Bloggs LTD
Completed forms in Excel format only must be returned by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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. The convention can be found on the International Narcotics Control Board website.
European Union legislation
EU legislation implements this convention through:
- Feb 2004 Regulation (EC) No 273/2004, which controls and monitors intra-community trade
- Dec 2004 Regulation (EC) No 111/2005 on trade between EU and third countries
A further regulation (No 1277/2005) laid down rules for the implementation of these council regulations. This establishes harmonised measures within the EU for controlling and monitoring certain chemical substances that are frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs.
It defines ‘scheduled substances’ in accordance with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention. For these scheduled substances, the regulation contains provisions relating to licences, customer declarations and labelling. A monitoring procedure is also put in place to prevent obstacles to the free trade in these substances between EU countries.
These EU regulations are enacted in the United Kingdom through two statutory instruments which came into force on 7 March 2008. These give full effect to the relevant EU regulations in the UK and impose licence and reporting obligations on those dealing in scheduled substances.
- Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Intra-Community Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 295) whose main objective is to prevent diversion of drug precursors for illicit manufacture while maintaining a competitive internal market for legitimate trade
- Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Community External Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 296) whose main objective is to monitor international trade and prevent diversion of drug precursors for illicit drug manufacture
It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with the requirements of these regulations. The penalties for non-compliance are detailed on the SOCA website.
Licensing of UK operators is governed by Regulation (EC) No 273/2004 of the European Parliament and Council which lays down the rules for the monitoring of trade within the EU.
Please see the attached note for an outline of recent changes to this regulation:
The objective of the EC regulation is to prevent the diversion of drug precursors for illicit manufacture while maintaining a competitive internal market for legitimate trade.
On 7 March 2008 the Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Intra-Community Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 295) came into force. These regulations give full effect to the relevant EU regulations in the UK and impose licence and reporting obligations on those dealing in scheduled substances.
The penalties for non-compliance are detailed on the SOCA website.
Domestic licensing requirements for operators in precursors can be found on the Home Office precursor chemical wallchart.
Licence replacement programme
This programme has closed.
Information on the Licence replacement programme is available on the National Archive website.
Making your application
You can apply for a domestic licence or registration for precursor chemicals. This website requires a password.
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
We will accept paper based applications only until 8 April 2014, but we recommend that the online application is used instead.
Paper application forms for a domestic licence or registration and guidance toward their completion can be found here. Please ensure that you complete Parts 1 and 2 of the application form for each category required.
Please read these notes carefully and follow the instructions to ensure a successful application:
- Category 1 licence application - part 1
- Category 1 licence application - part 2
- Category 2 registration application - part 1
- Catergory 2 registration application - part 2
- Category 3 registration application - part 1
- Category 3 registration application - part 2
- Guidance notes for completion of an application form
Precursor chemical licences: application fees for new precursor chemical licences
|Licence type||Licence application fee|
|Category 1 licence||£3,655|
|Category 2 registration||£435|
|Category 3 registration||£435|
Annual renewal of an existing precursor chemical licence
|Licence type||Licence application fee|
|Category 1 licence, where no compliance visit is required||£326|
|Category 1 licence, where a compliance visit is necessary||£1,371|
|Category 2 or category 3 registration, where no compliance visit is required||£109|
|Category 2 or category 3 registration, where a compliance visit is necessary||£1,153|
How will fees be paid?
Fees for all licences must be paid at the time of application, except for controlled drug and precursor chemical import/export applications, where charges will be accrued and invoiced on a quarterly basis.
Where do I send my fee?
You should not send your fees for licence applications to the Home Office Drugs Licensing and Compliance Unit (DLCU). When the DLCU receives your application, it will issue an invoice that will contain full details of how to make a payment.
You will be able to pay by one of the following methods:
- Bankers Automated Clearing Service (BACS)
- Clearing House Automated Payment System (CHAPS)
- credit or debit card
What happens if my licence application is refused or withdrawn?
If an application for a new controlled drug or precursor chemical domestic licence, or to renew an existing one, is refused or withdrawn, a full refund of the application fee will be made.
If an application for an import/export controlled drug or licence or precursor chemical authorisation is refused or withdrawn, no charge will be included in any quarterly invoice.
Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) enhanced disclosures
As of 12 October 2009, all applications for a Category 1 licence or category 2 or 3 registration must include a DBS (previously CRB) enhanced disclosure for each individual named on the application form.
Existing licensees altering the terms of their licence where there is a change in responsible officer or guarantor will also need to provide a DBS enhanced disclosure.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 enables the drugs, licensing and compliance unit (DLCU) to ask questions about spent convictions for the purpose of assessing applicants’ suitability to obtain a licence.
The drugs, licensing and compliance unit do not process DBS applications. The unit has contracted Capita Recruitment Vetting Service (CRVS), one of the UK’s leading specialist pre-employment screening and referencing organisations, to provide a scheme to enable DLCU licence applicants to obtain DBS enhanced disclosures.
A DBS disclosure guidebook is available from the CRVS website.
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. Please check on the Home Office precursor regulation wallchart.
Companies therefore need to submit an end-user declaration form to their supplier:
- customer declaration of specific uses of the scheduled category 1 or 2 substances (individual transactions)
- customer declaration of specific uses of the scheduled category 2 substances (multiple transactions)
Scheduled substance: any substance listed in Annex 1 liable to be used for the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, including mixtures and natural products containing such substances. This excludes medicinal products, pharmaceutical preparations, mixtures, natural products and other preparations containing scheduled substances that are compounded in such a way that they cannot be easily used or extracted by readily applicable or economically viable means.
Placing on the market: any supply, whether in return for payment or free of charge, of scheduled substances in the EU; or the storage, manufacture, production, processing, trade, distribution or brokering of these substances for the purpose of supply in the EU.
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.
Thefts and losses of controlled drugs
These must be reported using the thefts and losses form.
The EU has become one of the leading exporters of illicitly manufactured synthetic drugs and an importer of the precursors needed to manufacture them.
Following the adoption of the 2000-04 EU action plan on drugs, the European Commission organised an assessment of the control system of trade in drug precursors. It considered it necessary to extend monitoring requirements to operators trading with non-EU countries, to introduce a common approach to procedures for granting licences and to strengthen customs monitoring requirements.
The aim of current legislation in this area is to apply Article 12 of the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, adopted in Vienna on 19 December 1988, which concerns trade in such substances.
Council Regulation (EEC) No 111/2005 of the European Parliament and Council lays down the rules for the monitoring of trade in drug precursors between the community and third countries outside the EU.
Please see the attached note for an outline of recent changes to this regulation:
These regulations are given full effect in the UK by The Controlled Drugs (Drug Precursors) (Community External Trade) Regulations 2008 (SI 2008 No. 296) whose main objective is to monitor international trade and prevent diversion of drug precursors for illicit drug manufacture.
Precursors chemicals - trade between the UK and non-EU countries
Regulations require that all operators trading in precursors chemicals outside of the EU hold a domestic precursor chemical licence (for Category 1 substances) or registration (for all Category 2 and some in cases 3 substances).
Additional licensing requirements apply in respect of Category 1 substances, for example to those possessing the chemical but not ‘placing it on the market’.
Please check the domestic licensing section.
The licensing requirements for external trade in precursors chemicals can be found on the precursor chemical import and export authorisation wallchart.
Import and export authorisations or ‘licences’
Regulations require that all imports, exports and intermediary activities involving precursors chemicals be documented by operators.
Operators must lodge an application for an import or export authorisation (licence) with the competent authority in which the importer/exporter is established. In the case of the United Kingdom, the Home Office serves as the ‘competent authority’. Applications must be made via the national drugs control system (NDS) in respect of each transaction (shipment).
Applications for authorisations must contain full information about the transport arrangements, name and address of all operators involved, and nature, quantity and weight of the substance being traded.
Please read the import and export section.
Pre-export notification (PEN)
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 15 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 processing time for applications not subject to the PEN process.
Export and import authorisation applications
To make an import/export authorisation application, you will need to apply via the NDS website.
See the detailed guide on controlled drugs for more information on how to apply.
Charging for import and export authorisations
Following the recent consultation on charges for controlled drug licences and precursor chemical licences, registrations and authorisations, charges will be applied to import/export license applications as follows:
|Activity requiring authorisation||Application fee|