The law regulates how, when and by whom fireworks can be sold and used. Under the relevant law, such as the Fireworks Regulations 2004, there are a number of limitations imposed on the use of fireworks.
It is an offence for anyone under 18 to buy fireworks that can only be sold to adults, and to possess fireworks in public places. If someone under 18 is caught with fireworks in a public place, the police can issue them with a fixed penalty notice, usually an on-the-spot fine of £80. It is also an offence for someone to possess professional display fireworks, unless they are a firework professional.
With regard to how and when fireworks can be used, it is illegal to set them off in a public place or on the street; or to set them off anywhere between 11pm and 7am. There are some exceptions to this rule; for example, displays can continue until midnight on 5 November and until 1am on some other occasions, such as New Years Eve, Diwali and Chinese New Year. These offences are punishable by either an on the-spot fine of £80; or a fine up to £5,000 and/or imprisonment up to three months.
For the majority of the year, you can only buy fireworks from shops that are licensed to sell them. However, fireworks from a registered seller for private use can be sold between specific dates around Bonfire Night, New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali. Councils will hold a list of registered sellers, so if a shop is unregistered or selling fireworks that they shouldn't be selling, this should be reported to the council's Trading Standards Officer.
Bonfires and the law
There are no specific laws preventing people from having bonfires or imposing any limitations on when or where they can have them. Therefore, they are not illegal in their own sense. However, the potentially adverse consequences of a bonfire, such as the emissions and smoke, may be covered by other legislation.
Under the Highways Act 1980, if the smoke from a bonfire drifts across a road and endangers traffic, then the person who lit the fire may be liable to a fine. The police should be contacted if this happens.
People will commit an offence contrary to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 if they burn domestic waste in a way that is likely to cause harm to human health. This can occur if poisonous fumes are emitted from burning plastic, rubber or painted materials. The emissions and smoke coming from bonfires may also amount to a 'Statutory Nuisance' under this act, if the annoyance:
- interferes unreasonably with the quiet enjoyment of your property; and
- is frequent (in regularity and the length of time for which they are lit).
If you are thinking of having a bonfire, or regularly have them, you should consider the affect they may have on your neighbours, such as whether it prevents them from hanging washing in their garden or opening windows.
If your neighbour is having regular bonfires that are affecting your enjoyment of your property, you should first try discussing this with them. If this does not make a different, you may wish to speak to your local council's environmental health department.