In July 2023 the Scottish government published a consultation on various proposals to change the law with regard to the licensing of activities involving animals. The proposals include introducing the regulation of liveries via a licensing system. It is quite possible that the rest of the UK will consult in addition.
Liveries are generally used by owners of horses who do not have the room or time to care for their animal at home. There are several types of livery but in general, they are unlicensed and anyone who wishes can set one up. The exception is a "working livery" in which the livery user agrees that their horse can be used for lessons in exchange for a reduced fee. In this case, the establishment will need to have a riding establishment licence.
In a recent UK-wide survey a majority of the respondents, all livery owners, said they would be supportive of the proposed licensing of livery yards.
The Scottish consultation on this question forms part of a larger consultation on the licensing of activities involving animals and includes, in addition, commercial dog walking, dog grooming, canine fertility businesses, greyhound racing, animal boarding, riding establishments and "wider equine activities".
The stated intention behind the proposed changes to the law in Scotland, insofar as they will affect liveries, is to address what the Scottish government calls the "animal welfare concerns associated with livery services" including:
- Sub-standard accommodation;
- Poor quality feed/inadequate feeding;
- Lack of exercise;
- Poor healthcare; and
- Lack of socialisation
The benefits of licensing are expected to be:
- Improved living conditions;
- Better quality of care;
- Enhanced exercise/socialisation opportunities;
- Improved safety; and
- Accountability and transparency
It is expected that a future licensing scheme would include (but not be limited to):
- Requiring anyone wishing to operate or already offering livery services in the course of a business to be licensed by the licensing authority (the authority);
- Allowing inspectors to inspect licensed premises;
- Requiring a licence holder to comply with the terms of the licence;
- Requiring the authority to be satisfied that the terms of the licence are being met;
- Allowing the authority to grant licences of one to three years' duration;
- Similarly allowing the authority to revoke the licence;
- Requiring the authority to publish a list of licence holders; and
- Providing an appeals mechanism for applicants or holders.
There can be little doubt that, whatever the merits of a licensing system might be, its implementation and operation will mean an increased cost to livery owners. The cost implication is two-fold: on the one side there will be the set-up and compliance costs for the livery owner in terms of the staff time and commitment to make sure the licensing conditions are complied with and, on the other, the authority's costs associated with monitoring and enforcing the licensing conditions and dealing with applications and appeals. At a time when many local authorities are under financial strain it is, perhaps, not difficult to foresee that they would seek to recover some or all of the operating costs from the livery owner.
One effect might be to weed out those unfit to run a livery. The other, unwanted, effect might also be to drive other livery owners out of business simply because they can no longer cope with the running costs. Further nationwide surveys into the effect of cost of living increases and rising interest rates on livery owners found that one in five had not increased their fees for fear that horse owners would not be able to afford them. In the same survey, a fifth of livery users reported fee increases of around £30/month.
The potential benefit of formal licensing for livery owners is that it would, in theory, be easier to comply with a regime which has been set out in advance and applies to all.
The benefit for livery users is that they would have the reassurance of the livery having been confirmed to comply with a basic standard.
For insurers it would perhaps make underwriting easier because the policy wording could incorporate a term that, for cover to operate, such licensing would have been obtained and maintained by the member.