New regulations mean that more businesses involving animals will now need licences, leading to more inspections and higher fees.
On October 1, the new animal welfare licensing regulations, which unify and update a number of current rules, came into force.
The effect is to put in place a new licensing regime to control the following activities – selling animals as pets; providing or arranging for the provision of boarding for cats or dogs; hiring out horses; breeding dogs; and keeping or training animals for exhibition.
The changes also extend the scope of who is required to be licensed, so people who operated previously without a licence or under an exemption may now need to be licensed.
A risk-based system will be used when issuing licences so holders will be given a star rating to indicate their standards.
Those who obtain a high rating will be inspected less frequently – licences will be for one, two or three years – as they will be seen as lower risk and so obtaining a licence will be cheaper for them.
However, as explained at last week’s meeting of Northumberland County Council’s licensing and regulatory meeting, the new inspections are more stringent and take much longer, with additional training required for staff.
Therefore, councillors were asked to approve a hike in the fees charged for licences for the activities mentioned above, which in some cases are quite significant jumps.
The current fee for a new home-boarding licence is £105 plus a vet inspection fee. This will increase to £250 plus a vet inspection fee for a new application or a flat rate of £225 for renewals. The first application for existing licence holders will cost a total of £317.
For those selling animals as pets, offering non-home boarding or breeding dogs, the new fees will have the same three charges – an increase from £109 for the former and £171 for the latter two.
For those keeping or training animals for exhibition, the current licence fee of £58 will more than quadruple to £240.
Members agreed to these increases following reassurance from licensing manager Tasmin Hardy that the new fees are based on anticipated costs, with no profit whatsoever, and do not include costs in relation to unlicensed premises.
It was also agreed that there would a review after 12 months to ensure the charges were reasonable.
In response to questions from councillors, it was clarified that the licences are only required for those carrying out these activities as businesses, with the threshold an annual income of £1,000 or more.
So, for example, someone looking after dogs for free for their friends and relatives or someone training a dog to enter into a show, even for prize money, would not need a licence.
Coun Catherine Seymour asked about animal shelters and charities, such as B.A.R.K (Berwick Animal Rescue Kennels), and was told it would depend on their set-up in terms of selling animals on, but they may well have to pay the fees.
David Sayer, the council’s business compliance and public safety unit manager, added that the Government could have exempted charities under the new regulations, but hadn’t chosen to do so.
Coun Margaret Richards raised concerns about agents who offer boarding services, but don’t necessarily have oversight of the premises being used, which can be of very poor quality.
Mr Sayer said the new regime would help as both the agency and those providing the boarding would need to be licensed and inspected.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service