We believe pets shops that sell live animals play an important role in educating people to pick the right pet for their lifestyle. Seeing beautiful fish swimming around is the best way to introduce people to the fantastic hobby of fishkeeping and well-trained, knowledgeable staff can help to make sure people know how to care for their new pet properly.

Businesses which sell live animals (vertebrates) such as fish require an animal activities licence following an inspection by their local authority. By far the greatest number of businesses that require the pet vending licences are aquatic pet 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. Back in 2013 we worked with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and endorsed its guidance to EHOs. Unfortunately this guidance was never mandatory. Various Freedom of Information (FOI) requests we have carried out in the following years revealed councils were not following this best practice guidance, often charged vastly different amounts in fees and were 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 mandatory guidance was issued for English shops under new Animal Activities Licensing regulation in 2018. Subsequently, licensing regimes in Wales and Scotland were overhauled and mandatory guidance to follow were issued.

We continue to monitor the implementation of these new licensing regimes, particularly to ensure inspectors are properly interpreting the guidance, and to get feedback from shops over the undoubted increase in bureaucracy and whether this does improve animal welfare. We are also keen to hear more about whether online sellers, selling commercially, are also being licensed and required to meet the same standards that ‘bricks and mortar’ shops have to meet.

We have also made submissions on a number of consultations on third party sales of animals (these are sales made by someone who has not bred the animal. Fish sold in pet shops are third party sales (unless the shop has bred them) so any changes to this will have an effect on aquatic shops. We also submitted a response to a Scottish consultation on pet shop licensing which was a precursor to the eventual changes made through the animal activities licensing regulation introduced in 2022.

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 joint responses to the government’s consultation on pet shop licensing in England. Unfortunately we do not believe the Animal Activities Licensing regime that was introduced in October 2018 is fit for purpose and, following a review of its implementation, we have made recommendations to Defra to improve it.
  • We gave feedback as OATA and through our membership of the Companion Animal Sector Council (CASC) to the reviews into animal activities licensing in both Scotland and Wales.
  • 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.