Over 11,000 XL bully dogs registered in first six weeks of online service

Data shows that, with five weeks until the deadline, the number of applications made for an exemption already comfortably outstripped government’s estimates of the number of dogs in the country

Government has revealed that, in the six weeks following the launch of the online service for citizens to apply for an exemption to own an XL bully dog, more 11,000 applications had been received.

Laws passed last year to, effectively, ban the dogs across England and Wales, came into effect at the start of 2024. Following the end of a transition period, from Thursday of next week, it will be a criminal offence in England and Wales to own an XL bully without an exemption certificate and the necessary insurance cover. The provision for exemptions for existing dog owners was included as part of the prohibition legislation.

On 14 November, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched a service for citizens to apply for such an exemption. The key delivery means for this service is an online tool on GOV.UK. To use the service to file an application, citizens must first pay the £92.40 fee for doing so, and be able to provide details of the 10-digit reference number for this payment. Users must also provide information on their dog’s microchip number and the details of their third-party public liability insurance – a requirement for all owners to be considered for an exemption.

Between 14 November and 27 December a total of 11,073 applications were made, according to data released by the government in response to a freedom of information request. The government has previously estimated that there are only about 10,000 XL bully dogs in England and Wales – although others have estimated that there could be as much as three times as many.

Applications for the exemption will remain open throughout January.

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Of the 11,000-plus that were received in the first six weeks in which they were available, 1,560 had been rejected. In the vast majority of cases this was because of a failure to provide the necessary payment reference number. Some 234 provided duplicate information of a previous application, while 19 were rejected because the required liability insurance will not be in place before 1 February.

Last month, the UK chief vet Christine Middlemiss urged dog owners to take action as soon as possible – even if they are unclear as to whether the ban will affect them and their pets.

“Please do not risk leaving it to the last minute if you want to keep your dog, you should apply now for a Certificate of Exemption,” she said. “We recommend a precautionary approach – if you are unsure if your dog is an XL bully or whether any puppies may grow up to be of this dog type, you should comply with the relevant requirements and restrictions.”

Owners of exempted dogs will be further required to ensure that their animal is neutered by the 30 June, or 31 December for dogs that are less than a year old.

The ban on XL bullies was passed after the breed was linked to a growing number of serious, and even fatal attacks on humans. Government claims that, before 2021, about three people were killed in dog attacks each year. Since then – a period during which the popularity of the XL Bully has grown rapidly – there have been 23 deaths, with the soon-to-be-banned breed “being disproportionately involved in this rise”, according to the government.

Sam Trendall

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