Pet shop licences are vital to demonstrate proper animal welfare. They are required by establishments that sell vertebrates, like fish, to the public. By far the greatest number of shops that require a pet shop licence are aquatic shops. We estimate there are about 3,000 pet shops in the UK and about 2,000 of these sell fish.
We have long campaigned about the lack of consistency with pet shop licensing in the UK. To try to tackle this we worked with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and endorsed its guidance to EHOs, issued in 2013. Unfortunately this guidance is not mandatory. Various Freedom of Information (FOI) requests we have carried out over the past few years have revealed councils are not following this best practice guidance, are often charging vastly different amounts in fees and are often unable to justify those high fees.
In 2016 the Government announced a major review of how animal establishments (including pet shops) are licenced in England and Wales. We saw this as an important opportunity to argue our case for improving standards, for at least some parts of the UK. Animal welfare is a devolved issue so is dealt with by the Scottish Parliament and we would be equally as willing to get involved in examining the licensing system in Scotland. (Indeed the Scottish Government says it will be launching a review into the exotic pet trade at some time in the future.)
What we are doing
- We have spent many years highlighting the inconsistency in pet shop licensing, from fees to conditions. We supported the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health’s 2013 guidance on setting pet shop licensing conditions but several Freedom of Information requests to councils have revealed that only about half follow these. This evidence has helped us demonstrate to Defra that something needed to be done about inconsistencies and we were pleased when our latest report was mentioned in a Select Committee inquiry into animal welfare in 2016.
- We joined forces with fellow industry organisations Pet Industry Federation (PIF) and the Reptile and Exotic Pet Trade Association (REPTA) to submit a joint response to the government’s consultation on pet shop licensing in England in 2016. In it we called mandatory standards that are properly enforced by competent, experienced and trained inspectors who understand animal welfare and proper enforcement so that those businesses which invest in meeting the standards can rely on enforcement organisations to come down hard on those who flout the law.
- We want clear and consistent welfare standards to be applied to all businesses that trade in live animals across the whole of the UK. All should be licensed and required to meet minimum, mandatory standards that are well enforced by competent, and properly trained inspectors whether in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. A good licensing system helps to reassure customers that the welfare of the pets is secured by the businesses where they choose to shop.
- We want any enforcement regime to be UK-wide and ensure that bad practice is stamped out and that good business practices are protected and rewarded. The investment in training, education and equipment by licensed and responsible premises must not be eroded by those who flout the law and undercut them commercially by failing to protect the welfare of animals.
- We recognise our proposals will have an effect on pet shops, with potentially more demanding inspections and higher fees. But it is imperative our industry can demonstrate to customers it has high standards of animal welfare. It is the only way to protect the reputation of our industry.
- We have also attempted to tackle this lack of consistency by launching our own Primary Authority partnership on pet shop licensing with the City of London Corporation. This was the first co-ordinated partnership that had its own inspection plan.