22 June 2016

Just one council could justify its £300+ fee for issuing a pet shop licence, in an investigation by the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association.

Twenty councils which charge £300 or more for a pet shop licence – identified through an earlier Freedom of Information request by OATA – were asked to give a breakdown of the costs involved in coming up with the fee. Only Slough Borough Council provided a comprehensive list including costs in time and money for its £350 fee.

This is despite Treasury guidance which says fees for services should generally be charged at cost and that the calculations used to work out fees should be comprehensive and use actual costs, where known. The government advice also includes a guide about what to include in calculating fees.

A further 16 councils replied but did not give a breakdown of the costs involved. They either just confirmed the cost of the fee (usually publicly available on their website) or stated only the fee related to travel costs and time, and administrative and financial costs but gave no monetary value to these activities. Three failed to provide any information at all.

As an example of the responses received by OATA, one council said 40% of their £335.50p fee related to Environmental Health for enforcement with the remaining 60% apportioned to the administrative process. This means £201.30p is spent on admin & £134.20p goes to EHO time but no further details were given about how these were arrived at.

“We’re not against cost recovery but it seems councils don’t actually have a clue about what it costs them to issue a pet shop licence,” said OATA Chief Executive Keith Davenport.

“This, coupled with the inconsistencies we found in earlier surveys, just adds to the administrative muddle. We have to ask ourselves if pet shops are being used to subsidise other parts of a council’s work. We think it’s simply not on for small businesses to be milked in this way.

“We estimate there are 3,000 pet shops in the UK and about 2,000 of them sell fish – so they need a licence to open to customers. It’s tough running a business at the best of times and a £300+ fee is a lot to fork out every year.”

OATA has forwarded its latest findings to DEFRA officials and MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee, which is currently involved in a consultation on the licensing of animal establishments.

OATA originally asked 391 local authorities for information on pet shop licensing in January 2016, where it discovered at least 20 councils charge £300 or more. A follow-up FOI request was sent to these 20 in April 2016 asking for a full breakdown of the cost. Find the report here and read about our work on pet shop licensing here.