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.


Want to report animal cruelty in the UK- who should you call?

Ask most people who they think of first to report animal cruelty in the U.K and you can almost guarantee they will answer RSPCA or Scottish SPCA. Ask them who they think is legally responsible for investigating and prosecuting animal abuse and you will probably get the same answer. But in reality this is not the case as they have only become the default agency because those who should be responsible show little appetite to get involved.

Many people do not realise that there are other official authorities they can contact.These include the police, local authorities and Department of Environment, Farming & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), who have all been happy to decry the RSPCA in the past but have shown little interest themselves, as it is an expensive and specialist area of law enforcement.

When the government introduced the all-encompassing new Animal Welfare Act 2006 they failed to appoint anyone to enforce it.

There is also a misplaced conviction that the Society has mythical powers of arrest, forced entry and seizure when the sad truth is that they have no powers at all. The other agencies do not have a statutory duty to bother only a moral one and because of this mindset the RSPCA have always stepped in to fill the breach. But not everyone is happy with this situation and many believe they should not be allowed to prosecute and police authorities, judges, the media and legal profession regularly condemn the RSPCA and state that there is a conflict of interest and they have muscled their way into becoming the default agency.

Ironically there would be little or no investigation or prevention of animal cruelty without their input as they prosecute over 90% of cases taken under the Animal Welfare Act, 2006 and they are the only organisation that collects statistics on cruelty, so without them we would not even know the level of animal abuse in the country. Basically the Police, our local authorities and DEFRA should in theory be playing a bigger role. Recently there has been a lot of hand wringing at suggestions of giving legal powers to the RSPCA even though most other countries have gone down this route successfully.

The National Police Chiefs Authority have stated that: ‘Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 there is no one agency that is held responsible or accountable for enforcement of animal welfare. This means there are inconsistencies, however the Police, local authorities and animal welfare charities do seek to work together to deal with serious cruelty to animals.’ 

report animal cruelty

So what is the real situation and who should you contact.

Report animal cruelty to the Police.

If you call a Police call centre they will usually automatically refer you to the RSPCA, but you should insist they attend if it is an emergency situation. The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) stated they are happy to: signpost reports of animal welfare to the RSPCA and only provide a police response in emergency cases’.

In all fairness the Police are overstretched and in reality are out of their depth or comfort zone when it comes to animal cruelty issues. Many officers no doubt have the attitude that they have better things to do. They also admit that their front-line officers rarely use or even know about the Act and many forces rely on a few ‘specialist’ dog and wildlife crime officers to deal with animals.

Report Animal Cruelty to DEFRA.

You can report many aspects of cruelty to the local Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who are tasked with most aspects of the care, welfare and transport of livestock, slaughterhouses and animals in general, but the number of inspectors and inspections is woefully inadequate.

In 2016 they only managed to visit  1,676  farms out of  362,151 that were due inspection for animal welfare  just 0.46%. The potential for missed cases of suffering is huge.

Report animal cruelty to local authorities.

Local government authorities, usually the environmental health department inspectors, are responsible for licensing animal premises and welfare in dog breeding, pet shops, riding stables and most places where animal are kept. Like the Police they have no statutory duty to enforce the Animal Welfare Act.

But the Animal Welfare Act has discretionary powers for national and local authorities to appoint ‘inspectors’, but because of the cost and training required only 60% did so when the law was introduced, with many withdrawing them over the last decade due to the costs involved, and of these only 17% had inspectors dealing with companion animals.

In May 2020, Tracy Crouch, M.P. asked in the House of Commons how many animal welfare inspectors there were in Kent and was told the Government did not hold any such data under the Act and it was up to local authorities to “prioritise their resources”, so it seems the situation hasn’t changed.

Other Animal Charities.

Straying into areas involving campaigning against and prosecuting animal cruelty is contentious as well as expensive and risks alienating donors so most animal charities steer well clear and prefer instead to concentrate on the aftermath of irresponsible ownership and ill-treatment of animals.

Report animal cruelty in Scotland

Scotland approaches the subject differently and the Scottish SPCA (SSPCA) is designated a ‘Specialist Reporting Agency’, who report the facts of a case of cruelty to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. And it is they who decide whether the evidence warrants a prosecution and is in the ‘public interest’. In this way it protects the SSPCA from any criticism or blame of victimisation or conflict of interest.

Many believe this is the way forward and ensures an independent and unbiased approach, but in reality, with all agencies already giving cruelty a low priority because of funding restraints and staffing, plus having a differing viewpoint on what constitutes abuse from those who deal with cruelty daily, it would undoubtedly result in very few prosecutions being taken and remove any deterrent to those who harm animals.

The easy solution would be to give the RSPCA more powers following extra police training and other safeguards, the road many other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA have gone down, but in our land of animal lovers we don’t seem to be able to get our head round the idea.