By DCC Andy Marsh
Friday, 21 September 2012
The new online firearms licensing system
The nation’s eyes were glued to the shooting when Dorset man Peter Wilson won gold in the men’s Double-Trap at the Olympics. A cry of victory blasted from my mouth as he secured Britain’s fourth gold medal. I felt a spark of enthusiasm, a sense of pride, and a feeling that I too could become an Olympic champion.
After the Games passed, I sat and considered which events I might, in future, feasibly take part in. The idea that I could rival Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps quickly subsided as I felt the aches and pains from gardening the day before. Then it dawned on me, and there must be plenty out there thinking the same — people, like me, who have been so motivated by seeing Peter get his gold that they will be considering joining the shooting community.
Given the sport’s raised profile, we will undoubtedly see an increase in the popularity of shooting, so there is no better time for me, the national leader
of the Association of Chief Police Officers Firearms and Explosives Licensing Working Group (ACPO FELWG), to speak about the police and Home Office plans to update and provide a long-awaited overhaul of firearms licensing, bringing processes that have seen little change swiftly into the 21st century.
With developments in technology, almost everything around us is now done online — from grocery shopping and banking, to completing tax returns and applying for driving licences or passports. Yet, applying for a firearm or shotgun certifi cate still requires paper applications and a wait for the postman to hand-deliver the reply, instead of simply clicking to send instantly.
This summer, the police service launched its national eCommerce for Policing initiative. The idea is to provide a professional, efficient online service which can be utilised across any transactional processes between a customer and the police. It will provide a range of services, from online payments, driver awareness course bookings, management of lost and found property, as well as a host of other public contact work.
I am pleased to tell members of the shooting community that they will be the first to gain all the benefits from eCommerce, with the initiative going live in some counties in the summer of 2013, bringing easy online transactions to applicants. You will be able to log on and apply for renewals and grants, complete variations, track your applications, see the date and time of your home visits, pay online and more. It will be accessible to customers 24/7, so you can go online whenever it suits you.
Paper forms will still be available for those who prefer them or who don’t have Internet access, but I would like to emphasise the benefits of applying online. By developing the ability to complete transactions online, many customer-facing efficiencies will be made across firearms licensing departments. This will increase speed and provide far quicker transactions, such as processing grants, renewals or variations without any delays.
The online applications have been designed to be clear and straightforward and the website will be easy to use. We will always put safety and security first and, to help achieve this, we will use the Government Gateway, which is the same security technology used when applying for a driving licence or completing a self-assessment tax return online. Paying online will be simple using a credit or debit card. Again with customer security in mind, we will utilise Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS 2.0), which is compliant with electronic payments for the public sector, protecting stored cardholder data and encrypting its transmissions.
Both the British Shooting Sports Council and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation have expressed their support for the eCommerce initiative, and members of both, together with other members of the shooting community, are being used to test the service.
The key benefit of the eCommerce initiative for firearms licensing is that it will deliver easy access for the shooting community, allowing people to complete and track their transactions with the police online. Crucially, this radical change will allow police forces to become more efficient without any impact on public safety. Furthermore, I am delighted to say that my own force, Hampshire Constabulary, will be one of the lead forces implementing eCommerce.
I am often asked what my main priorities are when making decisions in firearms licensing and these are summarised by three key factors: enhancing public safety — making sure that we do what is reasonable, proportionate and necessary to prevent any avoidable harm; improving efficiency throughout firearms licensing; and delivering an excellent service to the public.
These priorities highlight why I support the eCommerce initiative. The ability to automate time-intensive tasks such as gathering information and processing paper applications will allow more time for firearms licensing departments to focus on improving the timeliness of the service and making high-quality, risk-based decisions.
I would also like to update shooters on other work taking place in the police firearms licensing world. Following a recommendation by the Home Affairs Select Committee examining the shootings in Cumbria in 2010, ACPO FELWG has agreed with the British Medical Association to implement a process for informing and consulting general practitioners when considering applications for the grant and renewal of firearm and shotgun certificates.
Currently, on application, a declaration is signed giving consent for the firearms licensing department to consult your GP, who must be named. Please don’t panic — we do not want to know every detail about your medical history; however, your doctor will be notified that you are a firearm or shotgun certificate holder, and they can notify the police if he or she has any concerns about your retaining a certificate. The local firearms licensing department will then be able to consider whether it wishes to ask for more details from the GP in order to make a decision on whether the certificate should be reviewed.
I have listened to the concerns of representative bodies in respect of this communication with doctors, and several alterations have been made to adjust the process to take them into account. Public safety will always come first for me, and the early review of this change has shown that in occasional but important cases, information has come to light that may help prevent an avoidable tragedy.
New Home Office guidance
Finally, I want to reflect on this exciting and positive time of change for firearms licensing and its customers. I am grateful for all the thoughts and engagement that I get from across the spectrum of the shooting community. There are challenges and I want to appeal to you all for your continued understanding. While we in policing are looking at improving the service to the shooting community, the Home Office is also developing new guidance to bring greater clarity across the board. We all recognise that firearms legislation is complicated by the iterative way in which it has built up over the years. There is no indication that this legislation will be consolidated, so I welcome thisnew guidance as a chance for me to help achieve the consistency of standards and interpretation nationally that I know the public deserves and expects.
While all this work is ongoing to improve your service and increase public safety, there is a proposal to conduct a review of the fees paid for certificates by the shooting community. Before you turn the page or shout in anger, please consider why there is a need for a proposal to review the fees. There has not been a review or any increase in fees since 2001, yet the bar on the management of risk has understandably risen. At present, the fees cover a small percentage of the costs to issue a new certificate, and the payment is a single fee for a five-year certificate.
My proposal to review fees takes into account the current costs and looks to recover 38 per cent of the total price of issuing a new certificate to an applicant. I think this is affordable and fair. Wouldn’t you pay a little more for a far quicker, trouble-free, better quality service?
I envisage a firearms licensing process that its users reflect upon, and that provides a great service on their terms. The vision is simple: an applicant applies online at a time that their busy day permits. They log on, and it is clear, quick and easy to use. Applications have customerfacing features, such as updates on progress, online variations and the ability to arrange the date and time for your home visit when it suits you, without numerous phone calls. The payment is online and simple — a one-off payment for a five-year certificate. And when you receive your certificate, without delay, you look back and think, if only everything in life was that simple. Now, back to my preparations for the Rio Olympics in 2016!
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