RESIDENTS could be at risk because police cannot afford to properly vet gun-owners, Hampshire’s police chief has warned.

Andy Marsh, the chief constable, has criticised cheap shotgun licences that force cash-strapped forces to effectively subsidise applications for certificates.

And he called for a fourfold increase in fees – which have been unchanged for 13 years – to cover the “full cost” of checking whether potential gunowners pose a danger.

As of 31 March 2014, H a m p s h i r e Constabulary had 5,414 firearm certificates on issue, covering 17,281 f ire-arms owned by residents. On top of that, there are 22,398 shotgun certificates covering 47,667 shotguns owned by people in the county.

A gun licence has cost £50 since 2001 – only just over a quarter of the £196 it costs police to issue the licence. Asked about that disparity, Mr Marsh – the police’s lead on firearms in England and Wales – warned it was “unrealistic” to expect forces to maintain the same level of scrutiny over applications for shotguns.

And he said: “There is a likelihood of a significant backlog in grant and renewal without an increase in the costs of a licence.

“Without the staffing levels to constantly reassess risk, it could lead to an increased threat of harm.

“It's becoming increasingly difficult to protect the level of staffing given to the oversight and scrutiny of the licensing process.

“Meanwhile, we have seen other fees such as drivers’ licences and passports rise on a full cost recovery – which I think is the right thing to do.”

The chief constable, who leads on firearms issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said the annual taxpayer subsidy across the UK was £17m.

ACPO has suggested a rise to £92 initially, followed by annual increases in line with inflation up to the full cost of processing applications.

In commenting, Mr Marsh has stepped into a growing Coalition row after David Cameron reportedly blocked any licence fee rise.

Norman Baker, the Lib Dem Home Office minister, revealed his frustration at the failure to cut the taxpayer subsidy to shotgun owners.

Mr Baker said: “The current position is difficult to justify – why should the police subsidise the issuing of licences for firearms?

“We are driving greater efficiencies in the way the police handle applications, which will bring the cost of issuing down, but firearms users also need to pay a fair amount, which is not happening at the moment.

“I hope to be able to reach a sensible outcome in the near future.”