2 February 2017

OATA has broadly welcomed the Next Steps document issued by Defra today (2 February) outlining its proposed approach to the licensing of ‘animal activities’, including pet shops.

In its joint submission with PIF and REPTA to the original consultation OATA called for a new licensing scheme to provide consistent, coherent standards which were well-enforced by inspectors who had appropriate qualifications and experience on the animals involved. It also called for robust enforcement which rewards good business practises with earned recognition and which stamps out bad businesses which flout the law and have little regard for animal welfare.

“Overall we are very pleased that Defra has listened to many of our suggestions about how to improve the licensing of ‘animal activities’, as it will now be labelled to acknowledge the advent of online sales,” said OATA’s Chief Executive Dominic Whitmee.

“However, the devil is in the detail so we will now consider the whole document and refine our response following discussions with Directors, members and colleagues at PIF and REPTA. We look forward to being actively involved in the work of the National Companion Animal Focus Group in discussions on how to flesh out and implement any proposed changes in a way that will be acceptable to the aquatics industry.

“But certainly, on the face of it, it finally looks like a set of standards will be enshrined in law and that Defra acknowledges the need for online business – not just bricks and mortar shops – to be licensed if they sell animals for profit. Both of these are major steps forward.”

In particular, OATA welcomes:

  • The acknowledgement that online traders of animals will need to be licensed in the same way that ‘bricks and mortar’ pet shops are. Defra has also said it ‘intends to require’ local authorities to look at whether an individual who sells animals is running a business. This is a welcome acknowledgement which we hope will go some way to levelling the playing field for all businesses.
  • That ‘key requirements’ of the CIEH’s model licensing conditions will be enshrined in law. We look forward to ensuring this finally means local authorities must follow a consistent set of high standards – in England and Wales at least – something OATA has called for for many years.
  • The acknowledgement that inspectors need to have the right training, experience and competence to carry out inspections. Defra is proposing that a set of standards and training are created and we look forward to playing our part in this work. Defra has also acknowledged that a list of inspectors who meet that standard could be created, which would help local authorities to pool resources and develop expertise, such as through Primary Authority schemes.
  • The acknowledgement of ‘earned recognition’ which means good businesses could have licences issued for up to three years. We look forward to playing our part in developing the ‘robust and consistent risk-based system’ that will be used to take forward this approach and OATA notes that being part of an independent scheme, such as UKAS, is likely to be taken in account when identifying lower risk businesses which require less frequent or detailed inspections.
  • All businesses will need to provide written information on the animals they sell to customers by law (including online businesses).
  • Licences will no longer be issued for the calendar year but for a fixed term throughout the year. This will spread the administrative burden for local authorities and we believe should further improve inspections.
  • The requirement for licence holders to notify local authorities to ‘major changes’ to their business and we welcome that this will be ‘clearly defined’.
  • The requirement for local authorities to report annually to Defra on the licenses they issue and conditions they put on them, which will help improve information on this.
  • The guidance Defra will introduce on how local authorities set reasonable fees to help improve consistency and transparency.

“However, while the majority of the Next Steps document appears to be good news for the aquatics industry, we remain concerned about how all this will be enforced. Robust enforcement is the flip side of the coin to good standards,” added Dominic.

“There is some mention of fixed penalty notices to aid enforcement and an aspect of concern is the ‘powers of entry’ question. We recommended that people who ran their business from home should have, at the very least, the same scrutiny around enforcement that ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses do, despite the fact that traditional pet shops actually already have greater scrutiny because they are visited daily by the public in a way that online businesses are not.

“But Defra is not recommending a change to the powers of entry that inspectors have into these ‘home’ businesses – they will still need a warrant and to give notice. It is this kind of detail that needs further scrutiny about how it will be practically implemented and there will no doubt be other examples that need further input from the pet industry to ensure the right outcome for animal welfare is achieved.”