Lincolnshire police and GPs are pursuing an official policy of charging extra for a shotgun or firearms licence – and shooting groups won’t put up with it
Confusion over what individuals should pay for a gun licence now appears to be the norm, as the shooting industry was forced to campaign against unfair medical report fees for a third time.
It has emerged that Lincolnshire Police has reignited its policy of ignoring Home Office guidance and instructing GPs to charge applicants for a standard medical report in advance of a shotgun or firearms licence or renewal, having already had to back down from doing so once.
A senior officer from the force even went on the BBC’s Countryfile to confirm its support for the non-standard licensing process. Detective Inspector Peter Shaw told a presenter: “We are going to insist on a medical report every time we renew or grant a firearm or shotgun certificate. We need to make sure that people taking possession of guns are fit to take possession of them.”
The programme also interviewed Dr Kieran Sharrock, medical director at Lincolnshire LMC, a representative body for GPs. He said he supported levying charges on applicants: “GP time is very short. This work isn’t NHS work. We can’t be doing this work when we should be seeing our NHS patients.
“The opportunity to get this sorted out wasn’t taken in 2016. As soon as the guidelines came out, [the British Medical Association] were unhappy that we were not able to make a sensible charge for this service.”
This is the latest episode in a two-year saga that started in April 2016, when the Home Office published new guidelines requiring the medical profession to check certificate applicants’ medical records and inform licensing authorities of anything relevant to the grant or renewal of a certificate.
The entire object of these new guidelines was to ensure public safety standards were implemented consistently by reducing the level of interpretation individual forces were applying to the law.
However, some GPs immediately tried to extract money from patients before issuing a report. The BMA even advised its members that “you are entitled to charge the applicant a fee, and may withhold the report until the fee has been paid,” despite the BMA having been involved in the Home Office working group in the first place.
The guidance states that after 21 days, if there is no response from the doctor, it should be assumed that there are no medical issues. BASC advised shooters not to pay any fees – after all, the new and increased price of shotgun and firearms certificates was set with a view to full cost recovery.
In October 2017, a Lincolnshire GP was caught demanding £90 to perform a medical check for a gun owner, saying that if they weren’t paid they would tell the police to “assume that you have a condition which would prevent you from holding a licence.”
This GP was following advice from Lincolnshire LMC, using a template made available to all GPs in the area. However, the surgery reversed its position after it and LMC were reported to the Fitness to Practice Directorate of the General Medical Council.
Only two months later, Lincolnshire appears to have adopted a hostile approach to the licensing process once again, leaving BASC and the Countryside Alliance no option but to go on the warpath.
The Countryside Alliance’s head of shooting, Liam Stokes – who appeared on the same Countryfile programme after Sharrock and Shaw – said the issue of medical fees could “collapse the medical procedures associated with firearms licensing.”
He said: “The spokesman from Lincolnshire Police declared that all applications and renewals will be held up until whatever fee the GP’s wish to extract is paid. This will create a postcode lottery in which an applicant in neighbouring Nottinghamshire can expect the system to operate as laid out in Home Office Guidance, whereas an applicant in Lincolnshire is subject to a random system of unregulated charges.
“This new guidance is less than two years old. The Home Office needs to either find a way to enforce it, or admit it isn’t working and get all the stakeholders back around the table to agree something that works.”
And the Alliance launched a campaign for fairness in firearms licensing, which is collecting signatures to be sent to the Home Office minister responsible for firearms licensing. All members of the gun trade are urged to sign up at www.countryside-alliance.org/firearms-licensing.