27 April 2016

Barely half of councils which licence pet shops are using the most up-to-date advice on how to do this, according to a new report from the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA).

During a Freedom of Information request to nearly 400 councils, OATA found at least one did not seem to be aware they were the licensing authority for pet shops in their area after subcontracting out the actual inspection process. The council also had no idea what standards are used by the inspectors it paid to licence the shops it was responsible for.

And OATA’s report has shown there is a growing trend for licences to be granted to private dwellings, despite about a third of councils carrying out no checks on these home-based businesses to see if they had the relevant planning consents, were registered for business rates and had public liability insurance.

“Councils have the important responsibility of ensuring animal health and welfare through these inspections. Yet again we find too many are using outdated advice and there are too many different types of staff doing those inspections without adequate training,” said Chief Executive Keith Davenport.

“Two years ago we found that two-thirds of councils were not using the 2013 Model Guidelines for Pet Vending Licensing issued by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. I suppose it’s good to see more councils are using them but it’s hardly what I would call great progress in two years.

“We’ve also noticed a trend away from using Environmental Health Officers to ‘other’ types of inspectors. And equally worrying, about a third of councils said these inspectors had received no specialist training to enable them to licence pet shops.

“We also see a small but growing trend of granting pet shop licences to private dwellings. We know from our members that this ‘informal economy’ can hurt bonafide businesses which contribute to the national economy through tax, national insurance, rates and business expenses that these casual enterprises may avoid.

“I believe this report is yet more evidence for the points we made in our joint submission with PIF and REPTA to DEFRA’s animal establishments licensing consultation. In that, we advocated for a new approach that ensures greater consistency in the application of guidelines and higher standards of inspector. We’ll be reinforcing these views to both DEFRA and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee when we send them this report.”

The FOI request was sent to 391 councils and 71% replied. The key findings are:

  • There are in excess of 3,000 licensed pet shops in the UK and nearly 80% of pet shops are licensed to sell fish
  • 6% of all licensed pet shops are in private dwellings
  • Barely half of councils have adopted the CIEH Pet Vending Guidelines 2013 (the most recent available). 23 councils rely on the Pet Animals Act 1951
  • Annual charges for pet shop licence renewals are highly variable (the lowest fee is £20 while the highest is £502. The average fee is £144.80)
  • Licensing visits are undertaken by a wide variety of council officers, not all of whom have received relevant training
  • Only 13 councils determine frequency of licensing visits through a risk assessment. Over 90% visit annually at least
  • Approximately 38% of councils do not check within their office for any required planning consents or registration for business rates when licensing pet shops.

The full report is available can be read here.