Could your fireworks display be breaking the law? Here's what you need to know

Looking forward to a Bonfire Night display, or planning fireworks as a birthday surprise? These are the fireworks laws you need to know about

fireworks display in garden
(Image credit: Mike Harrington/Getty)

Fireworks laws: are there any, and what are they? Do you need a license to set off fireworks in your garden, and are you only allowed them around Bonfire Night? Many of us love fireworks, some put up with them, and all our pets hate them for sure. So, what are the actual laws we must abide by when planning a fireworks display? 

While the laws around bonfires are somewhat vague, the laws for fireworks displays are very clear. 

Firstly, you do not need to worry about licenses for using fireworks. Despite a common misconception, there is no license you can get for operating professional grade fireworks known as 'category four'. The fireworks retailer simply will not sell them to you, as they are only available to registered professional fireworks operators. 

What you can buy are category one (party poppers, sparklers), category two (garden fireworks) and category three (display fireworks). What you do need a license for is the storage of large quantities of fireworks category two or three (if there are any category three in the mix, then the whole lot is classed as three). Typically, it's easier to just buy a small quantity of fireworks for the occasion a couple of days before, in which case you won't need a storage license. 

And what about the rules for setting them off? Again, for the most part, the legal side of things has been taken care of before you buy them: you won't be sold fireworks that are too loud (over 120dB), or too powerful to set off in your garden. 

What you must be aware of is the law that prohibits setting off fireworks (apart from category one in the street or on a public highway. This is a criminal offence and is subject to six months' imprisonment and a fine. In fact, you can't set off fireworks within a 50 foot radius of a street or public place; note that this includes beaches: apart from everything else, your fireworks could be mistaken for a distress flare. All fireworks must be set off on private land only, and you will need the permission of the landowner – renters, that, in theory, means your landlord/lady.

Can you set off fireworks only on Guy Fawkes? No, that's a myth. You can set off fireworks on any day of the week and year, but you must stop by 11pm (it is a criminal offence to set off fireworks between 11pm and 7am). The exceptions are Bonfire Night, which has a cutoff point of 12am, and New Year's Eve, Diwali, and Chinese New Year, which have cutoff points of 1am. 

Finally, sadly, there's no law that says that a neighbour can't set off fireworks if it's distressing to your pet. The best thing to do to mitigate the effects of the noise is to provide your pet with a place to hide, and to act as normally around them as possible (this prevents them from panicking too much).