The Animal Welfare Act 2006

What is the Animal Welfare Act 2006?

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is an act of parliament, the purpose of which, as the Act itself states, is “to make provision about animal welfare; and for connected purposes”.

To which animals does the Act apply?

Certain provisions of the Act apply to all “animals”, which the Act defines as “a vertebrate other than man”. Other provisions of the Act apply only to “protected animals”, which the Act defines as being “of a kind which is commonly domesticated in the British Islands, it is under the control of man whether on a permanent or temporary basis, or it is not living in a wild state”.

The Act does not apply to animals while they are in their foetal or embryonic form.

Who does the Act apply to?

The Act applies to anyone who is responsible for an animal whether on a permanent or temporary basis including persons who are in charge of an animal. The Act provides that the owner of an animal shall always be regarded as being a person who is responsible for the animal. The Act also provides that where a person has actual care and control of a person under the age of 16 years that person shall be treated as being responsible for the animal.

What provisions does the Act make?

Prevention of harm

The Act makes it a criminal offence to allow a protected animal to suffer unnecessarily. This applies to both specific actions taken by a person and to situations where an animal suffers unnecessarily as a result of a person’s failure to act where that person knew, or ought reasonably to have known that the animal would suffer unnecessarily or that there was a likelihood that it would.

The Act also creates specific criminal offences in relation to acts of mutilation carried out on protected animals (medical treatment is excluded) and relating to the docking of dogs tails (docking for medical purposes and the docking of certain working dogs is excluded by the Act).

The Act also makes it a criminal offence to knowingly and without lawful authority or reasonable excuse administer or allow another person to administer poisons, injurious drugs and substances to protected animals.

A number of offences relating to the fighting of protected animals are also created by the Act.

Promotion of welfare

The Act creates a criminal offence where a person responsible for an animal fails to take reasonable steps to ensure that the needs of the animal for which he is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice. The needs of an animal will include the need for a suitable environment and diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, any need it may have to be housed with, or separate from, other animals and its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Where an inspector takes the view that a person is failing to take such reasonable steps, there is provision in the Act for the service of an “improvement notice” on the person responsible for the animal. An improvement notice will set out the steps that the person is required to take by a specified time.

The Act also creates offences where a person sells or, in certain circumstances, gives away an animal as a prize to a person whom he has reason to believe to be under the age of 16 years.

The Act enables the appropriate national authority (the Secretary of State in England’s case) to make regulations for the purpose of promoting the welfare of animals for which a person is responsible, or their offspring.

Licensing and registration of activities involving animals

Certain activities involving animals require a licence or the registration of the activity and the act makes provisions as to licences and registrations. The Act itself does not, however, specify the activities to which a licence or registration is required. These are specified in a number of separate regulations.

Codes of practice

The Act gives the appropriate national authority (The Secretary of State in the case of England) the power to issue and revise codes of practice for the purpose of providing practical guidance in respect of any of the provisions of the Act. The Act also allows a code of practice to be revoked.

Failure to comply with a code of practice is not in itself a criminal offence. However, if a person fails to comply with a code of practice then such failure may be used in order to establish that person’s liability for one of the offences specified under the Act.

The Act sets out procedures for the making and approval of codes of practice in England and Wales and the revocation of codes of practice.

Animals in distress

The Act gives an inspector or a constable certain powers, including the power to enter premises, where they reasonably believe that a protected animal is suffering, in order to alleviate the animal’s suffering.

The Act also gives certain powers to the Magistrates’ Courts where a protected animal is suffering. Provision for an owner to appeal an order made by a Magistrates’ Court is made in the Act.

Enforcement powers

The Act gives certain people certain powers of enforcement. Specific provisions are made relating to the seizure of animals involved in fighting offences and relating to the entry of premises where there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has, or is being, committed or to enable a person to be arrested for an offence.

The Act also gives inspectors the right to inspect any records which a person is required to hold in relation to activities for which a licence is required and gives inspectors the power to carry out an inspection of any activity for which either a licence is required or which is required to be registered. Specific powers are given in relation to the inspection of farm premises and in relation to “community obligations”.


The Act gives local authorities the power to prosecute proceedings for any offence committed under the Act and sets out time limits for prosecutions.

Post-conviction powers

Where a person has been found guilty of an offence under the Act, the Act makes a number of provisions relating to the punishment of that person and the welfare of the animals concerned.

  • Under the Act a person can be fined or imprisoned. The Act also enables a Court to make orders depriving a person of ownership of an animal, and any dependent offspring it may have, and for its disposal and that of any dependent offspring.
  • The Act also gives a Court the power to disqualify a person from owning, keeping or participating in the keeping of animals, or being party to an arrangement under which he is entitled to control or influence the way in which animals are kept. The Act makes provision for the seizure of animals in connection with disqualification.
  • A Court has the power, under the Act, to order the destruction of an animal where the destruction is in the interests of the animal or where an animal has been involved in fighting offences. Where an animal has been involved in a fighting offence the Act also gives the Court the power to order the reimbursement of any expenses incurred by the police in connection with the keeping of the animal.
  • The Act also enables any equipment used in the commission of an offence to be forfeited and destroyed.
  • In certain cases certain enforcement action cannot be taken pending an appeal or during the period in which the person has to make an appeal.
  • Where an offence was committed by a person who had, or was required to have, a licence then the Court may, under the Act, cancel the licence or make an order disqualifying the person from holding a licence.
  • Where a person is disqualified from owning, keeping or dealing with animals or where they are disqualified from holding a licence, the Act makes provision for such person to apply to the appropriate Court for the termination of the order.
  • Where an order for reimbursement of certain expenses is made, the Act provides that such expenses shall be recoverable as a civil debt.
  • Where an order for reimbursement is made against a person who is not a person subject to disqualification or an offender, the Act provides that such person can appeal against the order.
  • Further provisions are made in relation to disqualification, deprivation, seizure and interim orders relating to Scotland and appeals against deprivation and seizure orders in Scotland.

General provisions

The Act also contains a number of general provisions. These deal with inspectors, conditions for the grant of a warrant, supplementary powers of entry, inspection and search, the power to stop and detain vehicles, the power to detail vessels, aircraft and hovercraft, the obtaining of documents in connection with the carrying out of orders, offences by bodies corporate, scientific research, fishing, the application of the Act to the Crown, the making of orders and regulations, the interpretation of certain words used in the Act financial provisions, minor and consequential amendments, repeals, transition provisions, the extent to which the Act applies and the commencement of the Act.