At certain times of the year, people ask us 'how old do you have to be to buy fireworks and what are the rules for setting off fireworks in the United Kingdom'?
The information in this section explains the current firework rules. Check how legislation restricts the safe use of lit sparklers and standard fireworks by the public.
UK firework laws make it illegal to set off fireworks or sparklers, or throw them, in any public area (e.g. a beach, in the street). The same legislation applies to any device filled with gunpowder.
Currently, the legal age to buy or carry adult fireworks (i.e. category 2 and 3) is eighteen (18) years old in the United Kingdom.
And category 4 fireworks?
Only professionals can use category 4 fireworks (e.g. aerial shells). In fact, strict fireworks legislation regulates all professional pyrotechnic displays.
Note: Some of the licencing regulations differ for retailers and the firework safety code in Northern Ireland.
In the United Kingdom, the legal age of buying fireworks increased in 1997 (up from sixteen to eighteen years old).
The change in UK fireworks law and fireworks age restrictions means all explosive materials must comply with BS7114.
So, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy 'adult' explosives or possess them in a public place.
The packaging should have outer markings according to firework safety rules and fall into one of these fireworks categories:
The law allows for the purchase of fireworks and sparklers from registered sellers for private use, any time between:
At any other time of the year, community safety regulations mean you can ONLY buy them from licensed shops.
Consumer combustible chemicals measured to be louder than 120 decibels at fifteen (15) metres cannot be sold to the public.
Advisory: Selling or using fireworks illegally can result in a fine up to £5,000 or a prison sentence of up to six (6) months. As a rule, minor offences will result in an on-the-spot civil penalty of £90.
Note: Fireworks regulations do not apply to traditional party poppers, such as those used at Christmas time and at birthday celebration parties.
It is against the safety rules on fireworks regulations for anyone to set them off in the street or the highway.
You must not throw (cast) them in public places (including sparklers) between the hours of 11pm and 7am. There are exceptions for certain occasions, which include:
Recreational explosive materials should only be let off on private land. An example would be your own garden or on land where you have the permission of the landowner.
Note: As a rule, setting off fireworks on the beach is illegal because they could be mistaken for distress flares. Check with your council authority for any local rules or bylaws before you set off fireworks.
Category 4 mortar shell types got banned in the UK following deaths in 1996. This type launches large single projectiles into the air.
In 1997 the government also banned:
Note: The definition of a mini-rocket received further restrictions in 2004. The aim was to stop anti-social behavior involving explosive materials. As a result, 'airbombs' are also not permitted.
The storage of consumer fireworks at home is classed as Hazard Type 3 (1.3G) or Hazard Type 4 (1.4G).
Depending on the weight and the time limits, you may need to register stored fireworks or apply for a licence.
As a rule, fireworks storage laws will not apply when buying a basic selection box or packet of sparklers from the supermarket.
Note: You must intend to set them off within a few days of purchase.
Fireworks are classified as explosives. Hence, it is illegal to mail them through a standard postal service. The same transportation law also applies to sparklers.
You must ship fireworks and sparklers using an 'explosives' courier. The products must be clearly marked in preparation for shipping.
Note: A hazardous classification means they are also prohibited on the majority of public transportation services. These include airlines, ferries, and shipping companies (including the Channel Tunnel).
The Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2010 is new fireworks legislation. In fact, it redefines the legal community regulations for the labelling and selling of packaged goods (e.g. pyrotechnics).
Even so, the new government fireworks regulations do not apply if they were imported before the 3rd of July 2010.
Important: New Category 1-3 products manufactured or placed on the market since the 3rd of July 2010 must comply with the Regulations and carry the CE marking.
Retailers can sell fireworks at any time of the year providing they hold a valid licence to sell them. There are two types of standard firework licences. The seasonal one, covering the period around Guy Fawkes night, is the most common.
The other type for New Year's Eve is the cheapest fireworks licence in the UK. Retailers holding a proper licence are subject to inspections to ensure they follow the terms.
You should never buy outdoor fireworks from an illegal seller!
The following safety steps are essential reading for anyone who is thinking of using fireworks (especially near to children and animals).
To avoid painful injuries (or worse) you should:
Note: We have another section explaining fire safety for children with 10 useful tips and expert advice.
The Environment Agency provides advice about the rules and regulations for bonfires (e.g. burning items that harm the environment).
In fact, burning most types of waste is illegal in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, besides polluting the environment, setting fire to treated wood, plastics, oil, rubber, and tyres can cause serious harm to public health.
Hence, anyone who is holding their own bonfire should follow this advice according to the Environment Agency (EA):
You may be tempted to burn pieces of old furniture on your bonfire (e.g. a mattress, household rubbish). But, certain materials give off toxic fumes which can cause pollution and cause damage to health.
Furthermore, unscrupulous waste businesses may target a community bonfire. They may try to use it to dispose of waste products (which can result in the illegal burning of commercial waste).
Thus, bonfire organisers should ensure they are aware of where the burned material has come from and its suitability for burning.
Note: You can report suspicious activities anonymously to Crimestoppers or to the Environment Agency incident hotline.
Consumer fireworks are those supplied to members of the public. In some cases, the item may become damaged or partially function and leak their explosive composition.
As a rule, the safest way to deal with a complete and undamaged firework is according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
General guidance for the safe disposal of damaged and unused fireworks by adult members of the public is to:
SOAK IT – BAG IT – BIN IT!
Only pyrotechnic professionals can legally purchase and use a category 4 firework. UK law considers a professional to be someone employed in a business who fires fireworks. An example would be a display outlet or a stagehand.
Most of these professionals will have received training under the British Pyrotechnists Association (BPA) Professional Firers Training Scheme. As a result, they also have liabilities according to the Health and Safety at Work Act.
Note: The BBC video is New Year fireworks celebrations in London 2020. Tampering with, or modifying, fireworks is an offence under the Explosives Act 1875 in the United Kingdom.
Firework laws in the United Kingdom are subject to change and ambiguous interpretation. This article only intends to guide firework users. It is illegal to set off fireworks closer than the minimum safely viewable distance. Even so, the firer could still be liable in the event of any injury caused to a spectator.
You should consult the relevant authority for confirmation of the laws prior to buying or using gunpowder or explosives. Further information is available from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Laws on Fireworks and Pyrotechnics Safety Regulations in United Kingdom