A Guide to Reporting Animal Cruelty in the UK

All the essential contact details and advice you need for reporting animal cruelty in the UK.

There are many agencies for reporting animal cruelty in the UK who unlike the RSPCA actually have legal powers to investigate, prosecute and intervene in matters of animal abuse. These include the Police, local authorities and DEFRA.

Most people mistakenly believe that the RSPCA in England or SSPCA in Scotland are the only agency legally responsible for investigating and prosecuting animal abuse. There is considerable confusion over what powers the RSPCA have. They have in fact none, but they have still become the default agency to go to as all the other agencies lack the time, inclination or the funds to do the job.

The U.K., Scotland and Northern Ireland all have different laws and procedures and within each country there are various authorities tasked with dealing with certain issues. Most of the confusion in the UK was caused when the government in its wisdom introduced the all-encompassing new Animal Welfare Act 2006, but failed to appoint anyone to officially enforce it.

Reporting animal cruelty in the UK
It is important to report animal cruelty whenever you come across it. Don’t leave it to someone else.

Who do you call?

Reporting animal cruelty in England& Wales

The Police, local authorities and the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), can all investigate and prosecute animal abuse dependent on the type of animal involved, but not necessarily a statutory duty to do so.

For farm animals, transport of livestock, slaughterhouses, etc contact:

DEFRA 03000 200 301 or 020 7238 6951 (England) 0300 303 8268 (Wales)

For all animals including wildlife crime:

Police on 101 or 999 if urgent. See also wildlife crime later in article.

OR

RSPCA 0300 1234 999

Depending on the circumstances an RSPCA Inspector might:

  • persuade or educate the person responsible for the animal to look after the animal properly
  • give them a care notice – stating what the person is failing to do and giving them a period of time to take action to improve the animal’s welfare. If they don’t follow a care notice properly owners run the risk of being charged with an offence and prosecuted.
  • start criminal prosecution proceedings by reporting the case to the the RSPCA legal department who will decide whether to take a private prosecution under section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act (POA) 1985.

The English government increased the penalties for animal cruelty in June 2021 to bring them more in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland. The maximum penalty is now 5 years imprisonment and/or £5,000 fine.

For pet shops, riding stables, zoos, animals in entertainment and companion animals:

Your local Council animal welfare inspector or environmental health department.

NOTE: If you contact a Police call centre they will usually automatically refer you to the RSPCA because in practice the English police generally feel they have no statutory duty (not forced by any law) to investigate. You can insist they take action if it is an emergency, but it can be hard work.

Scotland

Animal cruelty and welfare laws are enforced by the Police and Local Authority animal welfare inspectors and SSPCA Inspectors. The SSPCA are designated as a ‘Specialist Reporting Agency’, with similar powers to the police unlike in England. They report the facts of a case of cruelty to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (the equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service in England) who decide whether the evidence warrants a prosecution and is in the ‘public interest’.

Scottish SPCA 03000 999 999

OR

Local Authority Animal Welfare Department

OR

Police Tel: 101

Depending on the circumstances of the case an inspector might:

  • persuade or educate the person responsible for the animal to look after the animal properly
  • give them a care notice – stating what the person is failing to do and giving them a period of time to take action to improve the animal’s welfare. If they don’t follow a care notice properly they’re likely to be charged with an offence and prosecuted.
  • start criminal prosecution proceedings by reporting the case to the Procurator Fiscal

Penalties that can be imposed on offenders:

Serious neglect or cruelty, animal fighting or serious crimes to wildlife: up to 5 years imprisonment and unlimited fines.

Other penalties include fixed notice fines for failing in owner’s duty of care or abandonment and other less serious crimes.

The judge can also impose a Deprivation Order which removes the animal from the owners’ care or a Disqualification Order which stops the owner from owning or working  with animals for a specific period. They may also be added to an animal cruelty data base.


Northern Ireland

Local Authority Animal Welfare officers under the Welfare of Animals (Northern Ireland) Act 2011 are responsible for investigation cruelty to companion animals. They work on a regional basis and basically work office hours with an out of hours contact number.

Report cruelty to companion animals

  • Belfast City Council 028-90270431
  • Eastern Region 028 90494567
  • Northern Region    028 25633134
  • Southern Region    028 37515800
  • Western Area    028 82256226

For welfare of Farm Animals & Pet Shops

Department of Agriculture (DARD) 0300 200 7840 office hours. Out of hours police or local vet.

Wildlife crime.

Police Tel: 101 or 999 in an emergency

The USPCA does not get involved in prosecutions but campaigns against major issues like puppy farming, dog fighting and tame deer hunts.

USPCA 028 3025 1000

reporting animal cruelty in the UK

More on Wildlife Crime

There are no other charities which take regular prosecutions under animal welfare and protection laws, but it is worth reporting incidents of wildlife crime to these:

The League against Cruel Sports

The charity has a useful online and telephone contact to help you report wildlife cruelty such as illegal hunting anonymously.

Animal Crimewatch 01483361108 or online Animal Crimewatch Report

Royal Society for Protection of birds (RSPB)

Wild Birds and the Law | Reporting Crimes Against Wild Birds – The RSPB. Use the online reporting form or call Investigations on 01767 680551 (England, Wales, NI) or 0131 3174100 (Scotland), or email crime@rspb.org.uk.


Putting seafood eating off limits.

The UK Government is considering sentience status for lobsters, crabs and other crustaceans which could put some of our traditional seafood eating off limits.

Could it be the end of eating cockles and mussels ‘alive alive oh’ in the U.K.

It now appears that the United Kingdom government might seriously consider declaring decapod and cephalopods crustaceans, and more doubtfully even molluscs, as sentient beings and amend the UK Animal Welfare Act accordingly. For those in our seafaring nation who have historically indulged in eating cockles and mussels and all other seafood, it is bad news as it could put seafood eating off limits. Personally, I have never been a great seafood eater so on that count I will not really be affected, but there are millions who might be.

So can lobsters, crabs, octopuses, squid and molluscs have feelings, feel pain and suffer? We should get an official view soon as there has been a review of scientific findings on whether these animals qualify for the status of sentience and the findings are overdue.

Veterinarians back sentience for crustaceans.

The results of the review are eagerly awaited by many campaigning animal charities such as Crustacean Compassion who strongly feel these animals have the required qualities for this new status. Many people may find it a totally ludicrous idea, but the British Veterinary Association (BVA),  the Animal Welfare Science Ethics and Law Veterinary Association (AWSELVA) and dozens of animal charities are supporting the move.

decapods and cephalopods should be regarded in legislation as having consciousness and the capacity to experience feelings such as pleasure and pain”.

New BVA policy on sentience for decapods.
Live crab in vacuum pack.
Live crab vacuum packed on supermarket shelf to slowly asphyxiate.

Will we stop eating lobsters?

The question is whether this new status would impact our traditional seafood eating habits and increase our respect for the animals involved. Will it curb our desire to eat them? Definitely not, but it will put Pescatarians under pressure, who will have to search their conscience and decide whether to go the whole yard in giving up flesh altogether. And anyway we eat billions of other sentient animals worldwide each year without any real thought to their welfare.

Will it stop them being boiled alive or having their legs cut off? I would hope so. Will it stop live ones being crammed into tanks in restaurants and markets for us to choose. Perhaps. Will it restrict their availability? Doubtful. Will it stop live crabs being displayed on supermarket shelves vacuum packed? Definitely.

But will it really improve their welfare to a great extent? Probably not, as in practical terms it is difficult to police any protection unless we ban their culinary use completely.

Can we really protect them?

Take the case of the poor lobster. Will it be possible to protect their welfare at the point of capture in pots, the transport on fishing boats, their care while being held in markets or storage and their slaughter by licensed persons. Difficult. Will it end the traditional children’s seaside hobby of buying a crab line to yank tiny ones out of the water for no real purpose and then throwing them back often from a great height? Hopefully as it sends the wrong message to children.

Don’t get me wrong I would love to see these higher crustaceans protected as I have always believed they have as much individual character and emotions as any other animal and suffer unfairly at our hands as do larger fish species. As for molluscs it seems unrealistic that we shall ever see protection for them.

If we do join the handful of countries that already classify these animals as sentient, it might encourage North American and European States to take note. Unfortunately, Asian cultures whose eating habits are mainly seafood based will probably never see this point of view, but it will be interesting to see how all this pans out.

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