Delays to firearms licensing are on course to reach a record high, meaning that certificate holders may soon be holding firearms illegally.

With seven police forces having stopped processing applications, gun owners are now facing more than six months of delays.

Regulatory medical involvement, a peak in renewals and Covid restrictions are being cited as reasons for the delays.

The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) is now seeking legal advice against the police forces that have stopped accepting grant applications.

These are North Yorkshire Police, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Hampshire Police.

Bill Harriman, BASC director of firearms, said: “Throughout last year there was an increase in delays across numerous forces.

"We are now receiving complaints that grant applications are being returned with no reason provided.

“While it is nearly impossible to plan for the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic, police forces should have been prepared for the peak renewal period and the introduction of medical verifications.

"Their failure to correctly resource has led to significant delays and thousands of certificate holders edging closer to holding firearms illegally.

“The 43 police forces across England and Wales are responsible for the licensing of over 600,000 individuals, including those who require their firearms as part of their livelihoods; from pest controllers to professional athletes.

"The licensing departments are monopoly providers leaving applicants nowhere to turn when faced with months of delays.

“The discontinuation of grant applications is a failure to discharge the police’s statutory duty.

"The police cannot switch the law on and off as it pleases them.

“The process of firearms licensing is a public service to ensure public safety, the Home Office is required to act before the whole system collapses.”

BASC is writing to MPs and to Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to complain about the delays.

If your certificate is due to be renewed in 2022, BASC advises that you should make an application four months before it expires.

This will ensure that the application is made in plenty of time to qualify for the statutory two month extension.