Sanctions guidelines

The purpose of these guidelines is to offer:

  1. Staff guidance when handling serious breaches to the RSPCA welfare standards, RSPCA Assured membership agreement or our other policies
  2. Members reassurance that we handle serious non-compliances in a transparent, fair and consistent way
  3. The public and other stakeholders confidence that we have rigorous and robust policies and procedures in place when handling cases of serious non-compliance.

Who it applies to

These guidelines apply to all members of RSPCA Assured (the RSPCA’s farm assurance provider) who are found to have committed a serious breach (as defined below) of the RSPCA welfare standards, RSPCA Assured membership agreement, licence agreement or other policies.

When it applies

RSPCA Assured takes all complaints extremely seriously. But, it is also important that we are allowed the time to conduct a fair and thorough investigation to validate any allegations that have been made.

If a member is found to have breached the RSPCA welfare standards, RSPCA Assured membership agreement or other policies then we reserve the right to apply any one or more of these sanctions as we deem appropriate.

We recognise that no two cases are the same, so this document provides a guide only. We expect those responsible for making decisions to use their professional judgement when deciding what sanctions are most appropriate to apply in the given case. But, above all else, we expect them to always put animals first.

Ideally, this means working with members to address welfare or other issues and improve the lives of the animals – this is and always has been the charity’s mission. But, only when we are confident improvements, and the high standards expected by purchasers of RSPCA Assured products, can be achieved.

You can read more about our investigation procedures here.

Serious breaches

We consider anything that can directly negatively affect the welfare of animals, and that we do not expect under our higher welfare assurance, as a serious breach. Especially anything that could cause severe and/or prolonged levels of fear, distress, discomfort and unmanaged levels of pain, injury or disease.

Additionally, we would consider anything that goes against the spirit or values of the charity, or threatens the reputation of the RSPCA name as a serious breach. This could include, amongst other things, fraudulent activity and/or human rights or environmental abuses.

The cases in which we will consider applying sanctions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Concerns outside the scope of the RSPCA welfare standards*
  • Major** non-compliances
  • Repeated minor or major non-compliances
  • Acts of neglect (or negligence) by a farmworker or the farm manager/owner
  • Acts of deliberate cruelty by a farmworker or the farm manager/owner
  • Any other illegal activity on a site

*including concerns about the welfare of other animals on a site, the treatment of workers, environmental issues, the attitude or behaviour of workers or the site manager/owner, or the general upkeep of a site that could indicate other problems.

**those likely to cause fear, distress, discomfort, pain, injury or disease.

Sanctions available to us

Informal advice
In instances of minor non-compliances (i.e. those that are not likely to cause fear, distress, discomfort, pain, injury or disease) our first step should always be to contact the member to offer advice and support (if appropriate).

Formal warning
In instances where advice has not been followed or a first/one-off major non-compliance it may be appropriate to issue a formal warning, likely coupled with an unannounced inspection to ensure this warning has been heeded; however, we will also seek to understand why the non-compliance occurred and offer advice and support (if appropriate) to a) protect the welfare of the animals and b) avoid any repeat non-compliance.

Additional unannounced inspections
In addition to each of the sanctions listed we reserve the right to insist on as many additional unannounced inspections as we deem necessary to assure ourselves and our stakeholders that the RSPCA welfare standards and any other requirements are being met and maintained; these will be charged at cost as an additional financial penalty for failing to adhere to the spirit or requirements of the RSPCA Assured scheme.

Conditional renewal
In instances of minor non-compliances, where advice has not been followed, repeated non-compliance, first major non-compliance, following a suspension or temporary withdrawal, or where we have other concerns, we may place conditions on the member when renewing their membership; such as, putting them on special measures (see below) and/or requiring additional unannounced inspections.

Conditional application
Where a site has a historical record of animal welfare issues or other serious breaches (as detailed above), whether under different management or not, we may place conditions on application, such as receiving additional unannounced inspections.

Temporary withdrawal
In the case of repeated non-compliance, neglect, cruelty or fraud by a worker, or if we have any other serious concerns following the outcome of an investigation or evidence of neglect, cruelty, mislabelling or fraud we reserve the right to withdraw membership for a period of time that we deem appropriate; after this period the site will have the right to reapply at cost to them and will usually be put on special measures.

Permanent withdrawal
In the most serious of cases where a member has shown a persistent inability to achieve the RSPCA welfare standards or other requirements, or in the case of a deliberate act of cruelty or fraud by a site owner or manager, we reserve the right to permanently withdraw membership from that site all the time it remains under that current ownership and/or management.

Report to the authorities
In cases where our investigations find, or we are shown evidence, of negligence, deliberate cruelty, mislabelling or intentional fraud we reserve the right to share this information with the appropriate authorities, such as the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) or National Food Crime Unit (NFCU), who will then decide whether to conduct their own investigation and take any appropriate legal action.

Special measures
In addition to the sanctions above, we may also place any member who has demonstrated an inability to meet and maintain the RSPCA welfare standards or other requirements on ‘special measures’. This is so we can work with them to improve the welfare of their animals or address any other concerns we might have.

Special measures often include one or more of the sanctions above along with additional requirements and improvements, as well as extra meetings and unannounced inspections to check these are being achieved.

Special measures are not only used to make sure our requirements are being met and maintained but most importantly, they are there to help us achieve our charitable aim of improving the lives of farmed animals.

Members will be taken out of special measures once we are confident that they can consistently meet and maintain the RSPCA welfare standards and all other requirements of membership.

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