The Board received an information report on the legislative changes and new regime for the licensing of animal activities, under the newly implemented Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018, which came into force on 1st October 2018. These regulations were made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and replaced the licensing regime and legislation currently in place.
The Licensing and Support Services Manager, Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) introduced the report and in doing so informed Members that each district council was currently responsible for functions in relation to the licensing and regulation of various animal-related activities. WRS carried out these functions on behalf of each partner authority. These licensing regimes were being amalgamated into a single licence type with each aspect becoming a specific activity named on the “Animal Activity Licence”.
The new regime was designed to bring these activities into the 21st century and reflected the Government and the public’s concern to ensure that animal welfare was paramount in the operation of these businesses.
The new regulations were made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which was designed with the RSPCA’s concept of the 5 Freedoms at its heart:-
Freedom from Hunger and Thirst: By ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
Freedom from Discomfort: By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease: By providing appropriate preventative measures, along with rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour: By providing for species specific requirements with respect to space, enrichment and social needs.
Freedom from Fear and Distress: By ensuring species specific conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
Whilst the previous regimes had regard to these matters, they were not embedded at the heart of each one. The new changes would require officers to be better equipped to make judgements about what they see at licensed premises and the associated inspection regime would create a significant increase in workload for the service.
Members were further informed that under the regulations the existing licensing scheme for animal boarding establishments, pet shops, riding establishments and dog breeders would be repealed and replaced by a new single licensing scheme that would regulate all of these activities and would also incorporate the licensing of those who train or exhibit performing animals.
Members were asked to note that licences to operate a zoo or to keep a dangerous wild animal were not included in these changes and would remain a separate licence in their own right.
Page 55 of the main agenda pack detailed the new categories covered and some of the main differences in the new licensing scheme.
In order for these changes to be facilitated and implemented, all six Worcestershire District Councils would need to agree for the relevant items to be incorporated into the Worcestershire Shared Services Agreement and Statement of Partnership Requirements.
Members were asked to note that five of the district councils had met and had made recommendations to their respective Councils; all five partner authorities had resolved to approve those recommendations. Malvern Hills District Council was due to consider the recommendations from their Executive Committee at their Council meeting on 30th October 2018.
All current licence holders had been contacted in writing. Officers were also reviewing what additional activities might now be subject to a licence where one would not have been required previously.
It was anticipated though that a number of businesses which were previously outside of the scope of the old regulatory regimes would now be covered and those running such businesses would need to apply for a licence and would be subject to the inspection regime under the new legislation.
Members were further informed that each application would have to have an inspection visit prior to the issue of a licence.
There would be a lead in period after 1st October 2018 with businesses moving over to the new system as and when their existing licences expired.
The proposed fees and charges, as detailed at Appendix A to the report, had been calculated on a full costs recovery basis. The proposed fees and charges did represent a significant increase but this was due to the extra work that would have to be undertaken and the cost of engaging an additional officer.
The Licensing and Support Services Manager, WRS, highlighted that individual guidance had been issued for each licensable activity and there would be three levels of conditions for applicants to comply with; standard conditions, higher conditions and extra higher conditions. This would be linked to a star rating system and to a risk rating. The level of risk would determine the number of inspections required each year for any business holding a licence, with most businesses receiving at least two inspections a year. Business owners would be required to display their star rating to the public.
Currently travelling circuses were exempt from the new legislation.
The Head of Regulatory Services, WRS, reiterated that the new regime had been very clear from the outset that there was a need to improve animal welfare and that the new regime would ensure this. There were huge changes taking place as to how animal activities were conducted, this would create extra additional work for officers. Initial queries into licences could result in some complaints being received about the fees charged. Partner authorities were right to deliver the new licensing of animal activity regime.
In response to questions from Members the Licensing and Support Services Manager, WRS stated that each business would be charged a single application fee and then licence fees would be added depending on the activities carried out by the business. Officers were fully aware of all of the premises currently licensed and had recorded all enquires made from businesses not currently licensed but had queried the need for a licence under the new regime.
In respect of premises currently licensed, 160 premises needed to be processed and an inspection conducted before their licences expired on 31st December 2018. Officers would take a common sense approach. Some premises under the new regime may also require a separate vet inspection to be carried out. Therefore officers would not look to enforce anyone waiting for such an inspection; a relevant interim contingency would need to be adopted.
With regard to traders attempting to go ‘underground’, officers would keep track of any premises that had made enquiries about a licence and were not currently licensed. Officers would also carry out an intelligence drive, by looking at internet advertising, other means of social media and information from pet industry federations, for anyone not licensed under the new regime but carrying out licensable animal activities.
RESOLVEDthat the Licensing of Animal Activity Information Report, be noted.