How to keep your private firework display legal

The global COVID-19 pandemic has meant that thousands of large organised firework displays up and down the country have been cancelled. This may mean that more people are likely to host their own bonfire night or fireworks at home during lockdown, whilst observing social distancing rules.

29th October 2020

We all know the joy and fun fireworks can bring but things can get heated if these potentially dangerous explosives aren’t handled with care and could even result in disagreements between neighbours and potential property damage and injuries!

Who is responsible if someone is injured by a firework at a party? Are there restrictions on when you can have a bonfire? And what can you do if your neighbour’s bonfire or fireworks display cause damage to your property?

David Newman, Legal Adviser, DAS Law is here to shed light on the laws surrounding Bonfire Night and private firework displays.

What fireworks can be let off?

Adult fireworks (category 2 or 3) can be let off by any person on private property. Only licensed professionals can let off category 4 fireworks, whether this is on private property or within an organised public firework display.

What is the curfew? ­­­­

Generally, fireworks on private property may be set off all year-round between 7am and 11pm. However, at certain times of the year this curfew is extended; to midnight on bonfire night and 1am on New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali.

It is important to note that local by-laws may affect these curfews so it is worth checking with your local authority whether there are any extra limitations.

How to stay on the right side of the law if you are holding your own firework display?

To legally hold your own firework display without falling foul criminal law you must be over 18, have purchased the fireworks from a licensed supplier, and, if you’re setting them off in a public place, have obtained permission from the relevant authority.

Whilst it is legal to set them off on private land, if you’re a tenant in a property it is worth checking with the landlord if there’s any stipulation preventing setting off fireworks in your lease.

It is important to note that you have a duty of care to ensure the safety of your neighbours and visitors if you have your own firework display. Check the online guidelines of the RoSPA (Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents) to ensure that you are well informed with the necessary precautions to take.

All fireworks come with instructions and any negligence (such as setting them off in an inappropriate environment or against the published instructions) resulting in injury to someone or damage to property could make you liable for a civil claim.

Can you burn anything on a bonfire?

No, you cannot. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, it is an offence to burn any substance that will release harmful fumes causing pollution to the environment or harm to human health (these could include plastic, rubber or painted items).

You need to ensure that the fire is contained and does not escape causing damage or injury to people. It is also an offence if anyone on a public road is “injured, interrupted or endangered” by fire or smoke from your bonfire.

Can you prevent your neighbour from having a bonfire?

It is unlikely that you would be able to prevent your neighbour from having a bonfire if they are doing so occasionally and are not burning hazardous material.  Obviously, if the neighbour’s fire is posing a clear risk to the safety of your property this could be reported to the fire service.

Is it true there are restrictions on when you can have a bonfire?

There are no restrictions on when you can have a bonfire as there are actually no laws governing having one. There are however laws relating to any nuisance that your bonfire may cause.

If a neighbour’s bonfire or fireworks causes damage to your property, whose insurance should be claimed on?

If property is damaged because a neighbour failed to contain a fire, take appropriate steps to prevent a fire from escaping or getting out of control or did note safely light fireworks then your neighbour could be liable for the damage caused to the fence.

If it is your neighbour’s fault then they should claim on their insurance but you cannot insist they do so. However, when faced with a potential claim for damages the neighbour may choose to get their insurance company involved instead of dealing with it themselves.

What are the legal ramifications if you are injured by a firework at a friend’s or family party?

An occupier of land, under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, owes a duty to any visitor to take reasonable care to ensure the visitor is safe on the premises. Therefore if someone is hosting a firework party, they should ensure they are purchasing the fireworks from a licensed outlet, that they read the instructions carefully before use, and ensure that they light the fireworks from a safe place.  If you are injured, you may be able to hold the organiser of the event liable.

What recourse do I have if my neighbour is causing a nuisance?

If your neighbour’s bonfire or fireworks is affecting you, the first step would be to raise it with the neighbour to make them aware of the impact the bonfire has on you. If this fails then you may be able to get a court order restricting the neighbour’s ability to have a bonfire.

But the occasional bonfire is unlikely to amount to a legal nuisance and legal advice should be sought when considering legal action against your neighbour.

If your neighbour is burning hazardous material you can report the neighbour to the environmental health team within your local authority.

What to do if someone is setting them off in my street late at night – what are my rights, what does the law say?

If you buy fireworks for personal use, you are only allowed to use them on your private property or property where you have the consent of the landowner. It is considered a criminal offence to set off fireworks in the street or other public places without permission and you can contact the police if someone is breaking the law. If you want to set them off in a public place for events, such as for a street party, you will need to obtain express permission from the local authority.

What happens if you break the law?

Under the Firework Act if you break the law around firework use you can receive a prison sentence of up to six months or a fine up to £5,000. Breaching of the act constitutes a criminal offence, however if you cause any damage to property or injury to someone, you may be liable for a civil offence and could be sued for negligence.

How does the Welsh national lockdown effect any private bonfire/firework gatherings?

Due to the Welsh national lockdown coming into effect from 23 October 2020 until 9 November 2020 it will be illegal for a person to have any other persons at their display unless the parties present are part of the same household. The only exception to this is if a person is an adult living alone and has joined the household holding the display for their support bubble.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

An occupier of land, under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, owes a duty to any visitor to take reasonable care to ensure the visitor is safe on the premises.

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