Scotland's rogue puppy farmers hit with £1m tax bill

Three puppies in a cage. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Research shows that only 24% of Scots buy from approved breeders

More than £1m of tax has been recovered in Scotland as part of a crackdown on fraudsters selling puppies on the black market.

A taskforce was set up by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in 2015 to flush out the undeclared income of rogue puppy breeders.

The puppy trade in Scotland is reportedly worth £13m a year - with a large proportion illegally bred.

The tax haul includes a £425,000 bill for a breeder in the west of Scotland.

Most illegally bred puppies are sold online through social media or small ad sites, with research showing only 24% of Scots buy from approved breeders.

'Big business'

There has been a push to drive out the illegal trade due to welfare concerns as one in four puppies bought online die before their fifth birthday, and one in three get sick or die in the first year.

Using a full range of civil and criminal enforcement powers, HMRC recovered a total of £5,393,035 in lost taxes across the UK from 257 separate cases since the formation of the taskforce four years ago, including more than £1m in Scotland.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Scottish SPCA said the illegal puppy trade was big business

Several arrests have also been made as part of the taskforce's work across the UK.

The head of the Scottish SPCA's special investigations unit, who cannot be named due to the undercover operations they take part in, said: "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.

"It's a barbaric trade which commands huge profit from selling puppies. Often these puppies are kept in appalling conditions and this leads to injuries, health issues and behavioural problems."

Image caption Illegally traded puppies are often kept in appalling conditions

HMRC officials uncovered fraudsters selling puppies on a mass scale for huge profit, and then failing to declare the sales.

The agency said that in the west of Scotland, two unconnected puppy breeders were handed tax bills of £425,000 and £337,000 respectively, while a puppy dealer in the east of the country was forced to pay a tax demand in excess of £400,000 as part of the probe.

'Deeply unfair'

Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride said: "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."

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