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ARCHIVE: Animal Welfare Act 2006

Information for Local Authorities

Defra has been working closely with the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) and local authorities with regards to the new Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Whilst there are new powers available to local authority inspectors in the Act in relation to animal welfare, there is no obligation on local authorities to use these powers. The government expects that many of the new powers will help inspectors carry out their existing duties more effectively, with an extra focus on prevention of suffering before it occurs.  Inspectors are those persons with responsibility for animal welfare appointed under section 51 of the Act by either a local authority or, in England, the Secretary of State. This includes Animal Health officers.

Training sessions were held in late 2006 to explain the provisions of the Act and how they will impact on local authority enforcers.

Who enforces the Act?

It is envisaged that day-to-day enforcement of animal welfare law will not change significantly.  The Act provides for certain specific enforcement powers for the police and inspectors such as the power of entry, inspection and search and the power to seize documents.

The Act (like most law) is a ‘common informers’ act’, and this means that anyone is allowed to bring a prosecution for an offence. Whilst it is envisaged that the RSPCA will continue to investigate offences and bring prosecutions, particularly in relation to companion and domestic animals, RSPCA inspectors will not have formal enforcement powers under the Act. So, for example, where access to premises without the owner’s consent is sought, the RSPCA will have to be accompanied by a local authority or Animal Health inspector or police officer, as was the case in previous law.

Inspectors can be appointed by local authorities on a full-time, part-time or temporary basis. They can exercise the enforcement powers as detailed in the Act (powers of entry and seizure, for example), but the local authority remains responsible for their actions.

An inspector can also be accompanied by an expert in relation to particular welfare issues (for example, in inspecting exotic species).

Statement of Intent

Defra, LACORS, Animal Health, the police, and the RSPCA are drawing up a ‘Statement of Intent’ which will set out the usual procedures for enforcement of the Act. When finalised, it will be available from this site.

In broad terms, Animal Health and local authorities will continue to take the lead on enforcement of farmed animal welfare. The RSPCA will deal with most cases relating to companion and domestic animals. The police are likely to be involved only in cases involving very serious offences or issues of public order.

Secondary legislation, including licensing regimes

Secondary legislation and codes of practice to be introduced under the Act will update and replace much of the existing licensing and registration schemes relating to animals. Information about specific areas is available here. LACORS and local authority representatives will be consulted during more detailed development of policy. Advice and guidance will be provided to local authorities on each issue as it is formally approved.

Defra accepts that financial demands on local authorities are bound to change and considers that there needs to be a considerable degree of flexibility in the powers and duties given by any new schemes. It is envisaged that the cost of schemes introduced under the Act will continue to be met locally by setting the cost of a license or registration scheme to meet administration and enforcement costs. There is also provision in the Act to apply for reimbursement of costs associated with the necessary seizure or destruction of animals under the Act.

The Act now enables action to be taken where there is a welfare problem, but before an animal is actually suffering.  It is hoped that this will lead to a reduced need for intervention as welfare problems can be addressed before they become serious and more difficult to deal with.

In line with the government’s focus on better regulation, Defra will encourage local authorities to take a risk-based approach to inspections and focus resources on activities where welfare problems are most likely. 

Enforcement powers under the Act

There are several powers that are available to local authorities and inspectors under the Act, many of which update and improve the powers available under previous law. These include:

  • Emergency powers in relation to animals in distress
  • Powers of entry and inspection including the power to seize documents
  • Prosecution powers
  • Improvement notices

A new addition to the law is that an inspector can issue an ‘improvement notice’ if a welfare problem is found but it is felt best to inform the owner asking them to rectify the situation.  More information about improvement notices is available here.

Inspectors are not liable for anything done in the course of duty under the Act if a court is satisfied that it was done in good faith and there were reasonable grounds for doing it. It is also an offence under the Act for anyone to obstruct an inspector in the course of their duty.

Detail of who qualifies as an inspector under the Act and enforcement powers available to them can be found in sections 22-29; 51-56 and Schedule 2 of the Act (you can download the Act here).

Additional questions

During the training sessions that Defra ran for local authority inspectors in late 2006, some additional questions arose, and these are answered here.

If you require more information, please contact Defra or Lacors.


Page last modified: 15 August, 2008