Monday, November 10, 2008

Falling Through the Cracks

The RSPCA and the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) have an agreement which governs the way we decide the financial criteria for allowing owners to attend RSPCA clinics and hospital. Basically this is designed to avoid creating a situation where charity clinics could undercut local private vets for routine operations and eventually drive them out of business. 

The agreement is that our clinics and hospitals only treat animals taken into RSPCA care for rehoming or owned by people on  state benefits (including pensions, working tax credit and students in full time education living away from home). Anyone who is not on state benefits is deemed to be capable of arranging treatment by a private vet — because they would normally be able to insure their animals or else pay using a credit card or bank overdraft if they do not have cash available. Diverting people who are on benefits to charity clinics is not likely to undercut private vets because these are people who probably would be unable to pay anyway.

Virtually all other welfare charities who run animal clinics operate similar criteria, although some have more restricted lists of benefits that they will accept as proof of low income. 

Most of the time this is clearly in the best interest of everyone, including the animals, because there is no way we could afford to run a complete "NHS for animals" providing veterinary care for all domestic pets — even if the RSPCA's entire resources were diverted to running clinics. If the private vets closed because we were taking away their clients through unfair competition everyone would be worse off. 

It can be very hard, though, if an owner's application for benefit is delayed through no fault of their own. This seems to be happening more frequently — usually because the owner has lost their job, or because a partner who was earning moves out. We can legitimately give a small amount of help via private vets as that doesn't contravene the agreement against unfair competition, but there are limits on what's possible. 

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