An HMRC task force has raised £5 million in tax, by targeting dog breeders selling puppies on the black market.
HMRC set up a task force in October 2015 following discussions with animal welfare groups which expressed concerns about the number of dogs being bred in unregulated farms and sold illegally for huge profits.
The undercover nature of the businesses meant breeders did not declare their sales and pay tax on their earnings.
Through its investigation, the HMRC taskforce recovered £5,393,035 in unpaid taxes from 257 separate cases.
Two dog breeders in Scotland were given tax bills of more than £400,000 each, while a breeder and former Crufts judge in the Midlands was asked to stump up £185,000.
Several arrests have also been made during the four-year investigation, including Kevin Knox, a kennel owner from Durham who pleaded guilty to tax evasion in March last year.
Mel Stride MP, financial secretary to the Treasury says: “It is utterly appalling that anyone would want to treat puppies in such an inhumane way and on such a scale.
"It’s also deeply unfair to all of the legitimate businesses who do pay the right tax, and the total recovered by the taskforce is equivalent to the annual salaries for more than 200 newly qualified teachers.
“We continue to work hard with other government agencies and our partners to tackle these traders. We urge anyone with information about tax evasion to report it to HMRC online or call our Fraud Hotline on 0800 788 887.”
The head of the Scottish SPCA’s Special Investigations Unit, who cannot be named due to ongoing undercover operations, adds: "Unfortunately, the puppy trade is big business with thousands of dogs being brought into the country each year, particularly from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
"It is a multi-million pound industry and many of these poor dogs are bred on large scale puppy farms with little to no regard for their welfare.
“We have seized 27 puppies smuggled from Ireland at Cairnryan Port in Dumfries and Galloway as part of Operation Delphin, which is dedicated to ending the illegal puppy dealing industry and bringing those who prioritise profits over animal welfare to justice. It’s a barbaric trade which commands huge profit from selling puppies."
How to spot a puppy farm
The Kennel Club describes puppy farmers as high-volume breeders motivated by profits with little regard for the health and welfare of both the puppies and their parents.
Puppies reared in this way are more likely to suffer common and preventable infectious diseases and have behavioural problems and shorter life spans.
Breeding guidelines for bitches – including the frequency of litters- will also often be ignored putting the mothers’ health at risk.
If you're looking to buy a new pet then take these precautions before diving in:
- Thoroughly research any company you find online selling pets. Look for reviews or customer feedback
- Don't pay via bank transfer, as this is a common way for scammers to part you with your cash. Use approved payment providers such as PayPal or a credit card for extra protection
- Ask for photos and videos of the animal. If they are unable to produce any or the quality is poor, this is a telltale sign of a scam
- Only buy the puppy directly from the place it was born and raised, don't accept offers to meet at a midway point between you and the seller
- Insist on visiting the animal with its mother and littermates where they were bred and reared. Visit the animal more than once before you take it
- If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is
Fraud prevention organisation Action Fraud also recently warned of the dangers of fraudulent pet sales, cautioning prospective buyers on adversiting that had tricked thousands of people out of money.