Summary of requirements for animal welfare licences

The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals)(England) Regulations 2018 came into force on 1 October 2018. The Regulations are made under powers contained in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and requires that any person wishing to carry out the activities listed below in the course of a business must obtain a licence from the local authority where their premises are situated. The activities are:
  • Selling animals as pets
  • Providing or arranging for the provision of boarding for cats or dogs
  • Hiring out horses
  • Breeding Dogs
  • Training animals for exhibition

These requirements replace the requirement, in England, to be registered under the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 or obtain a licence under the Pet Animals Act 1951; the Animal Boarding Establishment Act 1963; the Riding Establishments Act 1964 or the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973.

If you carry on any of the above activities in England without a licence you commit an offence and are liable to imprisonment for a term up to six months, a fine or both.


Selling animals as pets

A licence is required if you are selling animals as pets (or with a view to their being later resold as pets) in the course of a business including keeping animals in the course of a business with a view to their being so sold or resold.

This does not include selling animals in the course of an aquacultural production business authorised under Regulation 5(1) of the Aquatic Animal Health (England and Wales) Regulations 2009 or the activity that falls within the definition of breeding of dogs.

Providing or arranging for the provision of boarding for cats or dogs

A licence is required if you are providing or arranging the provision of accommodation for other people’s cats or dogs in the course of a business on any premises where the provision of that accommodation is:

(a)Providing boarding for cats

(b)providing boarding in kennels for dogs

(c)providing home boarding for dogs; or

(d)providing day care for dogs.

This does not include keeping a dog or cat on any premises pursuant to a requirement under the Animal Health Act 1981. Vets that provide accommodation as part of the treatment of animals and businesses that look after a dog or cat within its own home (i.e. dog sitters) do not require a licence

However, businesses which arrange for the provision of accommodation for other people’s cats or dogs must be licenced even if they do not themselves provide boarding; for example, a business which connects pet owners with people/businesses willing to look after the animal.

Hiring out horses

A licence is required if you are hiring out horses in the course of a business for either or both of the following purposes:

  • Riding
  • Instruction in riding

This does not include premises used solely for military or police purposes or involving the instruction of students at a university on a course of study and examination leading to a recognised veterinary degree.

Breeding dogs

A licence is required for either or both of the following

  • Breeding three or more litters of puppies in any 12 months period;
  • Breeding dogs and advertising a business of selling dogs.

This does not include keeping a dog on any premises pursuant to a requirement under the Animal Health Act 1981; breeding only assistance dogs or dogs intended to be used as assistance dogs within the meaning of S173 of the Equality Act 2010; or breeding three or more litters of puppies in any 12 month period if the person carrying on the activity provides documentary evidence that none of them have been sold (whether as puppies or as adult dogs).

Keeping or training animals for exhibition

A licence is required if you are keeping or training animals for exhibition in the course of a business for educational or entertainment purposes:

(a)To any audience attending in person, or

(b)by the recording of visual images of them by any form of technology that enables the display of such images.

This does not include keeping or training animals solely for military, police or sporting purposes; any activity permitted to operate under a licence to operate a travelling circus; or any activity permitted under a licence for a zoo.

Application process

You cannot apply for a licence if you have been disqualified under the following legislation:

  • Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011
  • Animal Welfare Act 2006
  • Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006
  • Dangerous Dogs Act 1991
  • Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983
  • Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976
  • Breeding of Dogs Act 1973
  • Riding Establishments Act 1964
  • Animal Boarding Establishment Act 1963
  • Pet Animals Act 1951
  • Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954
  • Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925
  • Protection of Animals Act 1911

Or had a licence revoked under:

  • The Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals (England) Regulations 2018
  • Animal Welfare (Breeding of Dogs)(Wales) Regulations 2014
  • Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses(England) Regulations 2012
  • Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010

Before considering an application a suitably qualified officer or veterinarian appointed by the Local Authority must carry out an inspection. Your licence will be granted or renewed if:

(i) You have demonstrated that you are meeting or are capable of meeting the licence conditions, see below;

(ii) The appropriate fee has been paid; and

(iii) The grant or renewal is appropriate having taken into account the report received from the appointed qualified officer.

We will aim to determine the application within four weeks of receipt (provided access has been provided to our appointed qualified person) unless, in the officer's opinion, the licence should not be granted (or renewed). In such a case, the application will be considered by our Regulatory Licensing Committee. This will take place within 10 weeks of receipt of the initial application, unless the time period is extended by agreement with the applicant.

Before setting up any business in the UK, you must ensure that it will comply with the relevant health and safety regulations. 

Further information on health and safety.

Licence Conditions

If granted a licence will be subject to:

(a) the general conditions; and 

(b) the relevant specific conditions laid down in the legislation:

To assist licence applicants and the Local Authority the Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have issued explanatory guidance on the conditions, including how to achieve a standard beyond the minimum laid down in the legislation.

Length of a Licence and Star Rating

Your licence will be issued for one, two or three years based on a risk assessment system (with the exception of Keeping or Training Animals for Exhibition where all licences are issued for three years). The length of the licence will depend on the assessed star rating.

Risk rating

We will first determine whether your activity is low or high risk based on elements such as past compliance, complaint history, appreciation of animal welfare standards, appreciation of hazards/risks and welfare management procedures.

We will then decide on the start rating, ranging from 1 to 5 stars. The star rating is based on:
(i) whether your business is determined to be high or low risk; and
(ii) following the inspection, whether you meet the minimum standards laid down in the legislation, whether you achieve the higher standards laid down in the DEFRA Guidance, or whether you are failing to meet minimum standards in one or two areas.

Your licence will indicate the star rating awarded as well as stating the length of the licence. This information will be publicly available, either by being published on our website or through a direct enquiry to us. In addition, you must clearly display your licence on your premises.

Appeal of star rating

If you do not achieve the highest star rating we will provide you with information on why this is the case, including a copy of the risk table. The information will be sufficient for you to understand why you were awarded your star rating and what you must do to achieve a higher rating.

If you do not agree with the star rating awarded, you may appeal the decision to the us in writing (including by email) within 21 days (including weekends and bank holidays) from receipt of your licence. We must determine your appeal within 21 days (including weekends and bank holidays) from the date we receive the appeal. If you disagree with the outcome of the appeal your can challenge the local authority’s decision by means of judicial review.

Request for a re-inspection

You may ask for a re-inspection at any time if you have made the necessary improvements to address the non-compliances identified during the first inspection. There is a fee for the cost of the re-inspection. We will carry out the re-inspection within three months of receipt of the request. All requests for a re-inspection must be made in writing (including email) outlining the case for re-inspection including the actions you have taken to address the non-compliances and associated supporting evidence.

Suspension, variation or revocation of a licence

We may vary a licence if you request a variation or we may do it on our own initiative but this can only be done with your consent.

However, we may suspend, vary or revoke a licence without your consent if:
(i) The licence conditions are not being complied with
(ii) there has been a breach of the Regulations;
(iii) information that you provided is false or misleading; or
(iv) it is necessary to protect the welfare of an animal.
Such action will normally take place within 7 working days after the decision has been given to you unless the reason is to protect the welfare of an animal in which case it may have immediate effect.

Make an application or renew your licence

You can apply and pay online (via GOV.UK) or download and complete an application form and make a payment to us (see ways to pay). If you are applying our application form you must complete the main application form and only the schedule(s) that relate to your business.

Whichever way you choose to apply you should save a copy of the completed form for your records.

You should note that the application process will not start until the fee is received. 

Right of appeal

If your licence is refused, revoked or varied you can appeal to the First-tier Tribunal in the General Regulatory Chamber.

You have 28 days to appeal after a notice of our decision has been sent to you. You should use the notice of appeal form and state why you wish to appeal against the decision. You must include the decision notice and any supporting documents and send to:

By email:

By post:
General Regulatory Chamber
HM Courts & Tribunals Service
PO Box 9300

Telephone number: 0300 123 4504

What to do if you have a query about your licence

If you have a query about a licence issued you can contact us.

Complaints about a licensed premises

If you have a problem with licensed premises you should discuss the issues informally with the premises licence holder in the first instance. In many cases they will not be aware of the problem and this will give them the opportunity to resolve the issues.

If this does not lead to an improvement or if your complaint relates to an unlicensed premises, you should report the matter to us.