Export controls: dual-use items, software and technology, goods for torture and radioactive sources
Last updated 1 August 2023
Licensing requirements for the export of certain items from Great Britain (GB) to the EU changed on 31 December 2020, existing EU export control legislation was retained in UK law and applied to exports from GB to the EU.
The provisions of the Windsor Framework mean that EU export control legislation and current licensing requirements continue to apply in Northern Ireland.
An export licence is needed to export controlled dual-use items from Northern Ireland to another country outside the EU.
There are no licensing requirements to move dual-use items from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.
Sanctions regulations under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 may also apply to activities involving dual-use items. These regulations apply to the whole of the UK (including Northern Ireland). EU Sanctions also apply in Northern Ireland.
Dual-use items (including software and technology) are items which can be used for both civil and military purposes. The term also includes all goods which have non-explosive uses or assist in any way with the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
You can assess your goods, software and technology against the UK Strategic Export Control Lists to determine whether or not they are controlled.
If your items are not listed on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists, you may still need a licence under End-Use Controls or trade sanctions and embargoes.
Exporting controlled items without the correct export license is a criminal offence.
Penalties vary depending on the nature of the offence but they range from:
- your licence being revoked
- goods being seized
- a fine and/or imprisonment for up to 10 years
Dual-use items, software and technology
Dual-use items include physical goods, software and technology and are set out in these broad categories:
|materials, chemicals, micro-organisms and toxins
|telecommunications and information security
|sensors and lasers
|navigation and avionics
|aerospace and propulsion
Each category is then divided again from A to E:
- A: systems equipment and components
- B: test, inspection and production equipment
- C: materials
- D: software
- E: technology
You need a licence to:
- export controlled dual-use items from Great Britain
- export controlled dual-use items from Northern Ireland to outside the EU
You do not need a licence to export controlled dual-use items from Northern Ireland to the EU.
Open general export licence (export of dual-use items to EU Member States) allows the export of dual-use items (with both a civilian and military application) from Great Britain to EU Member States and the Channel Islands.
You need a new licence, issued by an EU Member State for exporting dual-use items from the EU to Northern Ireland.
The EU has added the UK as a permitted destination to their General Export Authorisation (GEA) EU001 to minimise any additional licensing burden for those exporting dual-use items from EU to the UK.
Check if your goods are controlled
Use the consolidated list of strategic military and dual use items including UK national controls to find out whether your goods are controlled.
Use the OGEL and Goods Checker Tools to check if your items are controlled.
You can also check the Control List Classification Service on SPIRE, the online export licensing service.
Other items requiring additional permissions
In a small number of cases, dual use items or information may have a classification of ‘official-sensitive’ or above.
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has set a mandatory requirement for the control of the release by industry of equipment or information with a classification of ‘official-sensitive’ or above, including in their marketing campaigns to foreign end-users. This includes UK material classified ‘restricted’ or above, graded prior to April 2014, and internationally security classified material. Control of release is therefore conducted through the MOD Form 680 application process.
Find out more about the MOD Form 680.
You can use SPIRE, the online export licensing system to apply for MOD Form 680 approval and all types of export and trade control licences, or register to use a OGL or a GEA.
Read guidance on using SPIRE to apply for MOD Form 680 approval or to apply for an export or trade control licence, or how to register to use a OGL or a GEA.
Military End-Use Controls
The Military end-use control is a catch-all control set out in Article 12A of the Export Control Order 2008, as amended in Article 2 of the Export Control (Amendment) Order 2022. This means that even if the items which you intend to export are not listed on the consolidated list of strategic military and dual-use items, you might still require an export licence under this control.
See the guidance on end-use controls applying to military items on GOV.UK.
Weapons of mass destruction end-use controls and military end-use controls
If your items are not listed on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists, you may still need a licence under the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) end-use controls.
You must not export any items if you suspect, or have been informed, that the items might be used to make chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
There are also controls on the
- brokering of controlled dual use items intended for WMD purposes
- transfer of software or technology for a WMD purpose, within the UK, out of the UK or from outside of the UK to another country
- the provision of technical assistance for a WMD purpose, out of the UK or from outside of the UK to another country
Transfer of technology concerns both the electronic and non-electronic transfer of controlled goods.
Examples of transfers include:
- electronic methods: email, fax, computer file transfer, telephone or video conferencing
- non-electronic methods: face-to-face communications
The provision of technical assistance broadly means providing any type of technical support such as assembly, maintenance or repair to controlled goods.
Read guidance about the supplementary Weapons of Mass Destruction End-Use controls.
Even if the items which you intend to export are not listed on the strategic export control lists you might still require an export licence under this control if the items are going into military goods in a country subject to an arms embargo.
Read guidance about current trade sanctions, including arms embargoes and other restrictions.
If your items aren’t controlled on a list, but you’re concerned your items or services may be used for WMD or military end-use purposes, you can get advice through SPIRE.
International nuclear exports depend upon recipient countries meeting certain security standards and safeguards, as well as what is called pre-notification or assurance of a proposed export. This is the case in particular for nuclear items, equipment, material or technology which are listed on the NSG Trigger List.
Find out what you need to do if you are exporting NSG Trigger List items for civil nuclear purposes.
A supporting document is required to export chemicals listed in Schedule 3 of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to countries that have not ratified the convention.
Check which additional documents you need to export Chemicals listed in Schedule 3 to these countries.
Goods which could be used for torture
You will need an export licence in order to export goods which could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment from the UK to another country. Some of these items are prohibited for export.
Read guidance about export controls on torture goods.
You will need an export licence for exporting certain radioactive sources from the UK to another country. The Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006 controls the export of certain high-activity radioactive sources as defined under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources.
Read guidance about controls on radioactive sources.
Temporary exports for events, maintenance and repair
If your goods are controlled, you must get an export licence if you’re taking them temporarily out of the UK. This includes taking goods and services out of the UK for:
- events, exhibitions and trade shows
- maintenance and repair
- exporting after exhibition
Check if your items are controlled through the control list classification advisory service on SPIRE.
Get an export or trade licence or register for a OGL or GEA
You can use the OGEL and Goods Checker Tools to check if you can use an Open General Licence (OGL) or one of the Retained General Export Authorisations (GEAs).
Read guidance about compliance visits on exporters.
Apply for an export licence through SPIRE (login required).
Always check the import rules of the country you’re exporting to. Ask your importer or get help from your freight forwarder.
Sanctions, embargoes and other restrictions
Some destinations are subject to sanctions, embargoes or other restrictions. The extent of these depends on the destination and the measured imposed. If you are exporting destinations subject to sanctions, embargoes or restrictions you should ensure you understand what is controlled.
Sanctioned and embargoed destinations often have restrictions on brokering and services beyond those set out in the UK Strategic Export Control Lists.
Find out more about countries subject to current trade sanctions, including arms embargoes and other restrictions .
Overlap between sanctions and strategic export controls
The export of and other trade in dual-use goods and technology is also controlled under sanctions regulations under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018
You may therefore need a licence which is valid under several pieces of legislation. This means that all licence applications relating to dual-use goods and technology which involve a sanctioned country will need to be considered against the sanctions licensing purposes, and the strategic export licensing criteria. A licence under sanctions regulations is unlikely to be granted if a licence is refused for the same activity under the retained dual-use regulation or the EU dual-use regulation.
The way this will work in practice is that we will consider an application for a licence which relates to activities that are licensable under the sanctions regulations, the retained dual-use regulation and the EU dual-use regulation (in respect of Northern Ireland) as an application under all of the relevant pieces of legislation. This means that only a single licence application is required.
The application will be considered against the relevant licensing criteria. If a licence is granted it will be valid under each of the relevant pieces of legislation.
Breaches of export control legislation
As an exporter, you may discover that you have exported goods or transferred controlled technology without an appropriate export licence in place. It is also possible that a compliance inspector from the Export Control Joint Unit will identify an irregularity during a compliance audit.
If this happens, it is very important to report the irregularity to HMRC (sometimes known as ‘voluntary disclosure’) as soon as possible, as they are responsible for the enforcement of strategic export controls. If the irregularity was found on an ECJU compliance audit, the compliance inspector will have informed HMRC and you are strongly advised to do the same.
Please post or courier hard copies of the voluntary declaration to:
Enforcement of Strategic Exports, Sanctions and Intellectual Property Rights
Customs Debt, Enforcement and Law
Customs and Border Design
14 Westfield Avenue
London E20 1HZ
Email declarations should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
You must provide:
- details of the export, including dates
- any relevant documents, such as export documentation and commercial invoices
- details of how the breach was discovered, why it occurred and what steps you have put in place to ensure it does not happen again
HMRC will consider the matter and contact you directly, either for more information or to let you know of their decision.
If you wish to confidentially report export control breaches HMRC have a hotline or alternatively you can use an online reporting tool. Report fraud to HMRC.
Contact the ECJU
Export Control Joint Unit
3 Whitehall Place
Telephone020 7215 4594
Contact for general queries about strategic export licensing.
Notices to exporters
Notices to exporters from the ECJU contain important information about:
- amendments to open general export licences
- changes to the list of controlled goods
- updates on legislation and sanctions
Sign up to receive email alerts to notices to exporters.
Training and seminars
ECJU provides a comprehensive programme of scheduled and bespoke seminars on different aspects of UK export controls.
Find out more about the export control training bulletin.