An investigation into the new Animal Activities Licensing system in England has revealed it has done little to improve animal welfare but is tying up businesses in unnecessary red tape, taking up precious time that could be used to look after animals.

The lack of training for inspectors, who have been given three years to become suitably qualified, means businesses face inexperience and uncertainty from those employed to implement the complex new system.

Some local authorities are also charging exorbitant fees to issue licences for longer than a year, despite clear guidance to the contrary.

OATA & REPTA, who issued a Freedom of Information request to more than 300 English local authorities to examine implementation of the new inspection and licensing regime for businesses selling animals as pets, are now asking Defra for an urgent review of the system.

The two trade associations are also calling for a number of changes to be made to the Selling Animals as Pets guidance, which now encompasses a wider range of businesses, from pet shops to wholesalers, consolidators of fish and breeders of animals other than dogs and cats.

The report has also been circulated to both MPs and officials in Defra along with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales which are also looking at reviewing their pet shop licensing systems.

“We always expected a bedding-in period for such a complex new regime but there are just too many substantial flaws, which in some cases are dangerous to animal health, for this to continue without an urgent review by Defra,” said OATA Chief Executive Dominic Whitmee.

“The higher standards and star rating system are not driving up animal welfare because they are too onerous or frankly unachievable for businesses to bother with them. We estimate that across all pets in England the cost of meeting higher standards exceeds £350,000. Coupled with the fact that some councils are charging more than £1,000 for a 3 year licence then it’s all just too burdensome and expensive for businesses to shoulder.”

REPTA’s Chris Newman says he is particularly concerned by some elements within the Reptile schedule that could lead to suffering or even the death of some animals if they are followed to the letter. And he believes the reptile sector has been very hard hit with high costs to meet new licence requirements.

“Some of the guidance requirements fail to take into account that species within a taxa group can vary tremendously so a ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t reflect good animal husbandry and in some cases is actually dangerous to their health. If shops followed the guidance to the letter they could end up killing some animals.

“We estimate the cost to the reptile sector alone could be more than £3 million. That’s a very far cry from the £230,000 Defra’s Impact Assessment predicted for businesses across the whole pet industry and illustrates just how woefully inadequate the preparation for this new regime has been.”

The top six recommendations made in the review are:

  1. Inspections from October 2019 should only be undertaken by inspectors who have undergone the required training. Any costs for using external consultants should be borne by the local authorities
  2. Reduce the requirements for written records, including the sales register.
  3. Review enclosure sizes and water depth requirements to ensure they are practical, proportionate and fit for purpose and do not risk animal welfare.
  4. Introduce meaningful assessments that enable inspectors to assess animal welfare when they visit a business selling animals as pets.
  5. Review and simplify the star rating system and higher standards where they do not provide additional welfare benefits or are not fit for purpose.
  6. Ensure consistent fee setting across local authorities and remind them not to set different fees dependent on length of licence.

Read the Executive Summary here.

Read the full report here.