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.


Paranoia over RSPCA powers.

What is wrong with our nation of animal lovers when we refuse to properly enforce and protect our animals?

In 2017 certain sections of the UK media reported, in their usual hysterical and overstated prose, that the RSPCA were in talks with the police and government seeking statutory powers under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to enforce the legislation without a police presence.This was deemed an outrageous idea by many of those who do not want animal welfare orientated people interfering in pursuits which involve suffering to animals.

Under English Law any person or organisation such as the RSPCA can bring a private prosecution against any law-breaker.

UK MP’s, Police chiefs and the Government at one point were all for trying to remove these mystical powers which didn’t exist in the first place as it is a long-established entitlement under English Law that any person or organisation can bring a private prosecution against any law-breaker under section 6(1) of the Prosecution of Offences Act (POA) 1985, so to stop the RSPCA would mean stripping every one of this right.

The national police Chiefs’ Council wanted them to “step back,” and for a government agency to take over prosecutions. Luckily the government ignored all the outcry as they finally realised that anyone can pursue a private prosecution not just the RSPCA and the alternative would cost tax-payers too much.

Those perpetuating suffering keen to join the bandwagon

Many institutions and organisations involved in some way in perpetuating suffering are more than happy to join the bandwagon in stopping the RSPCA as they know it frees them to do what they want without fear of investigation.

Simon Hart, UK Member of Parliament and a former head of the Countryside Alliance, an organisation dedicated to blood sports, was quick to jump in and stir up the controversy and  commented: ‘The RSPCA is a welfare charity not a private police force and the development is “appalling”’.

Tim Bonner the chief executive of the same organisation added The charity’s past record in this area would make it the last organisation on earth that you would want to grant powers of this nature to.

The RSPCA is continually and unfairly vilified for the work they do because of a complete misunderstanding of their role, which makes me extremely angry and disappointed. Having been involved in law enforcement I know how difficult it is to help these poor animals with one hand tied behind your back, constantly trying to be politically correct and facing unfair criticism.

UK lags far behind in their powers to enforce animal welfare laws.

Although in the UK there is consternation at the thought of the RSPCA being given legal powers, most other comparable countries have no such hang-ups and in this respect we lag far behind. Humane Society and SPCA officers in countries like the USA, Australia and New Zealand mostly have police powers and no one worries about them wearing police style uniforms.

New Zealand are way ahead of the game and the UK could learn a lot from them. The New Zealand SPCA is the only ‘approved organisation’ under their Animal Welfare Act 1999, so its 75 warranted Inspectors have exclusive powers to investigate and prosecute and have law enforcement training like the police and can issue fines and charge people.

They also run politically motivated campaigns for promoting law changes – all the things that anti-RSPCA lobbyists are keen to curtail in the UK. The main plus for ill-treated animals is that they have protectors exclusively with their interests at heart, fighting their corner, and pushing and deciding on prosecuting, uninfluenced by other interests.

Confusingly in Australia there is no national or Federal animal welfare act, but all eight states have laws which are enforced by varying state departments. Except for the Northern Territory, where the State authorities investigate and prosecute animal cruelty offenders, the SPCA inspectors have commendable powers to enter property and seize animals and evidence without police involvement, issue on the spot fines and warning notices and prosecute. In Western Australia the RSPCA, Department of parks and wildlife staff, police officers and local government officers all have powers as ‘general inspectors’ to enforce state animal law.

SPCA Inspectors are armed in many other countries.

In the USA, most Humane Society and SPCA officers have similar powers to the police and most of them are armed for protection. Government animal control agencies and sheriff officers also have powers and vets are encouraged to report cases of cruelty.

When I was a Humane Society inspector in the Bahamas, I was also a Royal Bahamian police officer which was extremely useful particularly when I needed ‘back up’, which was often!

The Federal Animal Welfare Act and other Federal Acts have little general anti-cruelty provision, but each State has its own cruelty and protection laws, often with higher penalties than the federal law and more stringent regulations. Since 2007 three-quarters of the States have much improved protection laws and there is apparently increasing support to regard cruelty as a felony and not a misdemeanor.

So what is all the panic about? Many misguided critics still want the RSPCA’s so-called ‘power of prosecution’ taken away from them, but if you are a true animal lover it’s about time that we got behind the RSPCA and for us to get in step with other countries around the world who see no problem in doing it right. Honestly, without the RSPCA no one would be interested in protecting our animals from cruelty – certainly not other animal charities who are too busy re-cycling unwanted pets.

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