£5,000 fines on the cards for horse welfare offences

  • The introduction of £5,000 penalty notices for animal welfare offences has been welcomed – but their effectiveness depends on enforcement, and they could be “open to misuse”.

    The secondary legislation, under the Animals (Penalty Notices) Act, came into force last month. It allows local authorities to issue fines of up to £5,000 for offences such as keeping animals in “poor living conditions”.

    Animal welfare and biosecurity minister Robbie Douglas-Miller said: “All keepers have a duty of care to protect their animals from harm, as well as adhering to biosecurity rules to protect our nation from devastating diseases.

    “I know the majority of animal owners recognise the importance of these rules, but it is vital that tough enforcement steps are taken when those rules are broken. I welcome penalty notices as an additional tool for our partners to use to encourage compliance with the law.”

    The Government stressed that “advice and guidance will remain the primary enforcement tool for early redirection to protect animals from harm”, and serious offences will still be prosecuted, which World Horse Welfare senior public affairs officer Kim Ayling told H&H is “only right”.

    “Without doubt, the introduction of penalty notices is a welcome and powerful addition to the local authority armoury to help tackle health and welfare issues,” she said.

    “These notices will allow local authorities to take stronger action if a low-level welfare concern is not addressed, or a similar offence repeatedly committed, without a lengthy and costly court process. As with anything of this kind, their effectiveness will depend on those on the ground being resourced and trained, and we would like to see a Defra-approved training provider and course syllabus to ensure they are consistently applied.”

    Rebecca Ironmonger of Roythornes Solicitors’ regulatory team told H&H the legislation provides a “middle ground” for regulators, and an opportunity to improve welfare.

    “This will no doubt be welcomed by responsible horse owners,” she said. “However, we would add a note of caution. It is not unheard of for regulators to be both incompetent and overzealous in terms of enforcement actions they take.

    “As such we can foresee that these new powers are open to misuse. It is early days, so it awaits to be seen how these new powers will be used by the regulators. We hope the existence of fixed penalties will both act as a deterrent to irresponsible horse owners and lead to improvements in horse welfare, which will only benefit the equine community as a whole.”

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