Defra has now published its Summary of Responses to its consultation on the licensing of animal establishments in England (the “Summary”) which ran for 12 weeks from 20 December 2015 until 12 March 2016. This article sets out the Summary’s key findings. In short, respondents were very positive about updating the licensing system.
The Summary is available in full here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/552955/animal-establishments-consult-sum-resp.pdf
BACKGROUND: THE EXISTING REGIME
Local authorities are required by law to issue licences for specific animal-related establishments and activities, with the aim of maintaining good standards of animal welfare. There is a registration requirement for performing animals, and licensing systems for pet shops, animal boarding, riding establishments and dog breeding. Estimates show that there are approximately 2,300 licensed pet shops, 650 licensed dog breeders, 1,800 licensed riding establishments, and 6,300 licensed animal boarding establishments in England. (Summary p1)
As Alan Bates set out in his presentation at the ALAW event on 2nd March 2016 on the Defra consultation, the existing system is not fit for purpose since:
- the parameters of each licensing system are unclear;
- there is inconsistency in the approaches of different local authorities;
- enforcement is patchy;
- there are undesirable bureaucratic burdens;
- it is not well-suited to dealing with internet sales.
Defra itself summarises the problem as being that “the laws, and their specific requirements, are often decades old, and difficult to adapt to the changing types of animal-related businesses, and to new standards of good practice in animal welfare. Moreover, the current process is complex and burdensome for both businesses and local authorities. For instance, primary legislation limits licences to a calendar-year framework, arbitrarily focussing inspections at the end of the year, and forcing some businesses with multiple functions to have as many as three separate licences.” (Summary p1)
Defra proposes to introduce new secondary legislation under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which would introduce a single ‘Animal Establishment Licence’ for animal boarding establishments, pet shops, riding establishments and dog breeding. The stated aim is to “relieve the administrative burden on local authorities, simplify the application and inspection process for businesses, as well as maintain and improve existing animal welfare standards by modernising the current animal licensing system in England.” (Summary p1)
SUMMARY OF RESPONSES
Defra received 1,386 substantive responses to the consultation questions, of which 6% came from animal welfare organisations. By far the largest group to respond (49%) was members of the public with an interest in the subject.
SINGLE ANIMAL ESTABLISHMENT LICENCE
71% of respondents were positive about the proposal to introduce a single Animal Establishment Licence. Just 20% of responses were negative. The most common positive comment was that this would reduce the burden on businesses and local authorities and simplify the process. It was noted that the licence would need to incorporate different requirements for the different types of establishment covered.
Again, 71% of responses were positive about the proposal to promote or require the use of Model Conditions by local authorities (for activities where they have been agreed). 16% of responses were negative, and a further 13% replied “don’t know” with a proportion of those wanting more information on the contents of the Model Conditions. Those in favour felt “it would improve clarity and standardisation across LAs and that it would be beneficial to be able to easily update the standards” (Summary p5). Agreement was frequently on the condition that the Model Conditions would be updated regularly by experts.
BREEDING AND SALE OF DOGS
When asked whether they agreed with the proposal to prohibit the sale of puppies below the age of 8 weeks, 90% of respondents agreed. The most common comment was that “puppies need to stay with their mothers and siblings until they are 8 weeks old for socialisation, support, training, learning bite inhibition and to develop immunity against diseases” (Summary p6)
LICENSING THRESHOLD FOR DOG BREEDERS
64% of respondents agreed with the proposal to make clear that the statutory licensing threshold for dog breeders is set at 3 or more litters per year. The Summary clarified that this meant 3 litters per breeder, retaining the existing requirement that each breeding bitch only produce one litter per year. It was felt that hobby breeders would be unlikely to have 3 litters in a year, meaning that this threshold would only catch businesses.
INFORMATION FOR PET SALES
When asked whether there should be a legal requirement to provide written information when selling animals, 90% of responses were positive. It was frequently commented that this was already good practice. Respondents felt this would be of use in reminding those who buy pets of what they have been told by the seller.
Some respondents offered more measures that could address the care of exotic animals. “The importance of a high level of knowledge and understanding of the needs of the animals was commonly raised, and a lot of respondents suggested that this be checked prior to purchase, for example, by asking the buyer to carry out a test, or to demonstrate that they have particular qualifications. It was suggested that buyers could be required to join a specialist club/society or to register with a specialist vet.” (Summary p12)
LICENCES AT ANY POINT IN THE YEAR
At present, licences must begin and end with the calendar year. There was strong agreement (83%) with the proposal to allow licences to be issued for a fixed term which can begin at any point in the year. It was felt this would “reduce the administrative burden on businesses and allow them to plan their workload more effectively” (Summary p14).
THREE YEAR LICENCES
Responses were very mixed to the question whether maximum licence length should be increased to 3 years. 48% were positive and 40% were negative. It was suggested positively that this would be more efficient, as authorities could allocate more resources to poorer performing or higher risk establishments. On the other hand, negative responses highlighted that a lot can change in 3 years.
- Responses were largely negative (61%) to the proposal to allow licence holders to transfer licences to new owners of the same premises.
- 95% of respondents agreed with the proposal to require licence holders to notify local authorities of major changes such as a change of premises or scale of activities.
- The majority (72%) of respondents supported keeping the proposal to maintain the registration requirement for performing animals.
- 56% of respondents were positive about proposals to change the registration system for performing animals. The changes proposed were to update the legal standards to explicitly refer to the welfare needs set out in the Animal Welfare Act, remove the need for local authorities to send copies of the paperwork to Defra and to extend powers of inspection to premises where performing animals are kept.
- A clear majority (72%) of respondents favoured proposals to give local authorities powers of entry into animal establishments.
- Responses were very mixed to the idea of allowing an exemption from licensing requirements for businesses affiliated to a body accredited by UKAS: the most common answer was ‘don’t know’, with 43% disagreeing and 31% agreeing. A common response was that this system would be too confusing.
- Even more respondents (43%) replied ‘don’t know’ to the question ‘To what extent do you think sector-led UKAS-accredited certification schemes could improve animal welfare in unlicensed areas? If so, what would work best and how could this process be encouraged?’. Respondents in that group were split between not understanding the question and being undecided on the value of the proposal itself.
Defra ended by stating that Regulations will be drafted over the next few months which take into account views expressed in the consultation.
Author: Imogen Proud, Monckton Chambers.