Slaughterhouses, knacker's yards and farms: inspections and penalties

Know when your premises could be inspected, the powers inspectors have, and enforcement notices and penalties you could receive for sites that kill animals.

Applies to England

This guidance is for slaughterhouses, knacker’s yards and farms.

Your premises could be inspected to make sure you’re following the rules for the welfare of animals at the time of killing.

Your premises may be inspected by:

  • a vet from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) if you run a slaughterhouse
  • an officer from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), or local authority if you have a knacker’s yard, farm or if you are producing small quantities of poultry, rabbits or hares for local supply

Notice of an inspection

You’ll usually get reasonable notice of an inspection, although there’s no specific notice period.

The inspector will not give you notice:

  • if they’ve been unable to make an appointment with you
  • if giving you notice means their visit could be less effective, such as if they suspect you’re breaking the law
  • in an emergency

What happens during an inspection

The inspector can:

  • bring to the inspection anyone they think is necessary
  • examine all land, buildings, containers or vehicles on your premises – they cannot come into your home unless they have a warrant
  • ask you questions
  • examine and test anything
  • watch anything that’s happening at your premises
  • make recordings and take photos
  • remove a part or all of any animal or carcass

  • inspect or take away any computer or equipment
  • ask you to show them any document so they can read it or copy it
  • ask anyone at your business for help, information, equipment or facilities to carry out their work

If an inspector takes anything away you’ll get a receipt. You’ll get your things back when they’ve finished inspecting them. There’s no time limit in which they have to return them to you.

If an inspector is going to use anything belonging to you in a court case, you will not get it back until the court case is over.

If you’re away

If an inspector visits your premises when you’re not there, they must leave your premises as secure as when they went in.

When you could be prosecuted

You can be prosecuted if you breach the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (WATOK) Regulations. Offences include:

  • operating without a valid certificate of competence (CoC) or WATOK licence
  • failing to meet the requirements for a slaughterhouse
  • failing to meet the requirements for killing other than in a slaughterhouse (such as on a farm)
  • failing to meet the requirements and guidelines for religious slaughter
  • killing animals other than those to which the retained Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing applies to
  • not complying with an enforcement notice
  • intentionally obstructing an inspector
  • giving an inspector misleading information
  • failing to help an inspector unless you have a good reason not to help them
  • failing to give the inspector any information that’s relevant for the inspection
  • failing to give or show the inspector any relevant documents

When a company can be prosecuted

If a corporate body (such as a company or institution) is guilty of an offence, its director or secretary (or anyone acting as one) may also be guilty of an offence.

This can happen if it’s proved that they either:

  • consented to the offence
  • were involved in the offence through ‘connivance’ (such as if they secretly knew about it)

Penalties you could receive

You may have to appear at a magistrates’ court if you commit an offence.

If you’re found guilty of an offence you could be either:

  • given an unlimited fine
  • put in prison for up to 3 months

When you could get an enforcement notice

An inspector may issue you with a written enforcement notice if they think you’re breaking the law.

An enforcement notice can tell you to:

  • correct an illegal procedure or piece of equipment
  • reduce the rate of your operation until you’ve put things right
  • stop you from carrying out a procedure or using facilities or a piece of equipment until you’ve put things right

The enforcement notice will include:

  • your name
  • the time and date of the notice
  • how you’ve breached the regulations
  • what you must do to put things right
  • when you have to do it by
  • how you can appeal

If you put things right

You’ll get a completion notice if the inspector is satisfied that you’ve put things right.

If the inspector thinks you still have more to do, they tell you why, and how you can appeal.

When your certificate or licence could be suspended or revoked

Your CoC, temporary CoC or WATOK licence could be suspended or revoked (cancelled) if you:

  • have broken animal welfare rules
  • have been convicted of an offence relating to animals
  • are no longer a ‘fit and proper’ person to hold a certificate or licence
  • are no longer capable of carrying out a procedure

When you can appeal

You can appeal to a tribunal if you think that:

  • you should not have received an enforcement notice
  • you should have received a completion notice
  • you should not have had a CoC or WATOK licence suspended or revoked
  • the FSA should not have refused to give you a licence or CoC

You must appeal within 28 days using and following the process in the appeals form.

The FSA or APHA must reply to you and the tribunal within 28 days. Once they’ve done this, you must reply to the tribunal and the FSA or APHA within 14 days.

Tribunal hearings for appeals

The court will set a date that suits everyone if your appeal goes to a tribunal hearing. The judge will give everyone a fair chance to speak.

You can ask the judge to keep a hearing or certain information in the hearing private. It’s up to the judge to decide on this.

You can ask someone to represent you at the hearing. They do not need to be legally qualified, but you must tell the tribunal and the FSA or APHA if they’re not.

You can agree to the tribunal making a decision on your case without a hearing if you want to save time. This is called a consent order. However, the hearing can still go ahead if you, the FSA or APHA insist on it.

Cancelling your appeal

You can write to the tribunal if you decide you do not want to carry on with your appeal. The tribunal will usually agree to cancel your appeal, however it might not cancel it if it believes it has good reason.

If you change your mind and want to carry on with your appeal, you can write to the tribunal. You must inform the tribunal of this within 28 days of when it was informed that you did not want to carry on.

Published 15 October 2015
Last updated 5 June 2023 + show all updates
  1. Content has been reviewed as part of improvements to the welfare of animals at the time of killing pages. Updates approved by Welfare at Slaughter team.

  2. EU regulations not applicable after EU Exit regards to prosecution in the UK.

  3. First published.