Investigations & sanctions

When do we launch an investigation?

An investigation is launched every time RSPCA Assured receives a complaint or is made aware of potential welfare issues on one of our members’ sites. These may come from farmworkers, other animal welfare organisations, RSPCA Farm Livestock Officers (FLOs), RSPCA Assured Assessors or members of the public.

As an animal welfare charity, we take allegations of negligence or cruelty extremely seriously. There are a number of steps we take which allow us to quickly get to the bottom of each complaint and ensure no animals are currently at risk.

Our first priority is to establish what has happened, when, where, how, who was involved and, of course, what has been the impact on animals. When we receive complaints promptly which provide a lot of information, such as photographs, videos, addresses and dates we can begin our investigation with a clear understanding of the issue.

How are investigations conducted?

Once we’ve established the basic facts, our first step is to get an RSPCA Farm Livestock Officer (FLO) or one of our own RSPCA Assured Assessors on-site as quickly as possible to check out the situation in person. These visits will be unannounced when possible.

While on-site, a detailed report will be made, and if relevant, evidence such as videos, photos and copies of paperwork will be gathered.
This report is then reviewed with the person who visited the site, and a decision is made as to what action will be taken. Each case is unique and is considered carefully, so the outcomes of our investigations are highly individual.

If the case is found to have no ground, we will be happy to close it immediately, more severe penalties extend to permanently withdrawing the farm’s membership and potentially involving the authorities.

What happens after an investigation?

All members of the RSPCA Assured farm assurance scheme must abide by both the relevant RSPCA welfare standards for their species of farm animal as well as the terms and conditions of RSPCA Assured’s Membership Agreement, which includes NSF Certification Scheme Regulations.

The membership agreement refers to the following sanctions that RSPCA Assured may apply when the relevant RSPCA welfare standards or our terms and conditions have not been met.

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 before any sanctions are considered and applied.

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.

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. But, 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, but also to cover the cost to us of conducting those additional inspections.

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 farm 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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