An animal trades insurance expert is warning landowners of the financial cost of renting fields to dog walkers without having adequate liability cover.
With around a quarter of households owning a dog and an estimated 8.9million dogs in the UK, there has been a huge demand during the coronavirus pandemic for exercise spaces that allow dog walkers to respect social distancing.
This has led to increasing numbers of people looking to rent private land.
But Mark Briggs, of animal-related business insurance specialist Cliverton, warns that doing so without having public liability insurance could cost landowners thousands of pounds should dogs, or their owners, suffer injury.
“The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a surge in resourceful and entrepreneurial initiatives, but in a bid to provide new services and facilities to members of the public at short notice, corners can sometimes be cut and risks unwittingly overlooked,” he said.
“Dedicated spaces that allow for social distancing, while giving dogs the freedom to roam off lead without fear of them escaping, being harmed or causing harm to others, should be welcomed. Landowners, however, who invite members of the public, and their pets, onto their property have a legal responsibility to protect them from injury.
“The risks facing dog owners can include anything from potholes on poorly-maintained paths and driveways to rabbit holes, ponds or potentially dangerous pieces of gardening, farming or building equipment left in fields.
“Such hazards can result in serious injuries by causing either dogs or their owners to slip, trip or snare their ankles. And this leaves the landowners exposed to claims of negligence.
“We are living in a litigious society, which makes health and safety risk assessments along with liability insurance protection, to cover the cost of compensation claims, absolutely vital.”
Even minor injuries can result in awards of several thousand pounds, while more severe head, leg or back injuries can lead to compensation settlements well in excess of £100,000.
Briggs points out that dog owners also have a responsibility to check that landowners have the necessary cover in place in the event of an accident.
Furthermore, both parties should ensure the land in question is securely enclosed, with well-maintained fencing that prevents dogs from squeezing under or through, and that it is high enough – normally at least 6ft – to prevent them from climbing or jumping over.
Planning permission may be required for alternative uses of land, but this will not normally be required if the alternative use is for less than 28 days in a given calendar year. Cliverton recommends landowners seek advice from their local authority.