Animal Licences

Animal licensing laws

The Government has published updated legislation, The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations under Section 13 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. 

The Regulations

The regulations came into effect on 1st October 2018 and replaced the licensing and registration schemes previously in place under the following legislation:

  • Pet Animals Act 1951
  • Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963
  • Riding Establishments Acts 1964 and 1970
  • Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 and Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999
  • Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925

Under the new regulations a number of animal related activities will all be covered under a single type of licence, known as an Animal Activity Licence, rather than under separate licences. The legislation is accompanied by new nationally set licence conditions which are contained in schedules 3 to 7 of the regulations. We cannot change these conditions as they are already set in the legislation.

The animal activities covered by this new licence are:

  • Selling animals as pets
  • Providing (or arranging to provide) accommodation for other people’s cats or dogs
    • Boarding for cats
    • Boarding in kennels for dogs
    • Home boarding for dogs
    • Day care for dogs
  • Hiring out horses (for riding and/or instruction in riding)
  • Breeding dogs
  • Keeping or training animals for exhibition

Businesses operating any of these activities will need to comply with the new conditions, and will be assessed before the licence is granted to make sure they can meet them.

Local authorities must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State in carrying out their functions under these regulations.


All premises will be inspected before the licence is granted. The premises itself will also be assessed so we can be sure the licence holder can meet the new regulation relating to the physical environment in which the animals will be kept.  The inspector will be looking to make sure the applicant has the following:

  • Firstly the welfare standards observed, which are based upon assessment of a range of criteria, including records, staffing, the environment, diet, and the protection of the animals from pain and suffering. The inspection findings will determine whether there are 'minor failings', 'minimum standards' are achieved or 'higher standards' have been met.
  • Secondly, the risk, which is largely based on the history of compliance of the business, and also upon the licence holder's appreciation of hazards and risks. The overall risk will be determined as being either 'low' or 'higher'.

Staff should have specialist knowledge in the species they are caring for and a clear understanding of its needs and welfare - i.e. mental and physical health, feeding, and knowledge of environmental enrichment. They should also have an understanding of risks involved in caring for the animal, including an extensive risk assessment and written policies and procedures that are reviewed regularly. There should be training procedures in place to make sure staff know what is expected of them, and clear evidence of good supervision of staff. These documents should be available for the Inspector to examine.

Duration of licences and Star rating system

The Secretary of State guidance includes a risk based system that must be used when issuing animal activity licences.

The inspection findings will be fed into the following scoring matrix which determines both the licence duration (either one, two or three years), but also a star rating which will be given to a business.

Matrix which determines both the licence duration and star rating given to a business
Scoring Matrix (based on risk) Minor Failings Minimum Standards Higher Standards
Low Risk 1 Star (1 year licence) 3 Star (2 year licence)

5 Star standards (3 year licence)

Higher Risk 1 Star (1 year licence) 2 Star (2 year licence) 4 Star (2 year licence)

This matrix does not apply to the activity of keeping or training animals for exhibition, which will all receive a three year licence.

If the applicant is not happy with the decision, they can make improvements to address highlighted issues, and ask for a re-inspection.

Star rating register 

A premises with a lower star rating does not necessarily mean that the premises has poor standards as there are other factors that have to be considered, such as the length of time the licence holder has been operating.

New businesses will be assessed as higher risk simply because there is no history of good practice that can be considered.

Animal welfare Star Rating Register

Star rating appeal process

To ensure fairness to businesses this procedure explains how businesses can dispute the star rating given to their business after their local authority inspection.

This procedure is relevant where the business feels the star rating does not reflect the animal welfare standards and risk level of the business at the time of the inspection.

This process is not to be used if a business has made improvements and wishes to be re-assessed – in this case the business should apply for a re-inspection.

Appeal process and application form

Dangerous Wild Animals and Zoos

The new regulations do not have any impact upon licences issued under The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 and the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.