Animal Trust, a veterinary group with nine surgeries across Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and North Wales, has become the first and only practice registered as a community interest company, providing a bridge between commercial veterinary care and charity provision. 

The company says that as a community interest company, it can help to bridge the gap between charities, which provide help only for those who are eligible, and commercial practices, which are becoming increasingly unaffordable as they are acquired by corporates and private equity companies.

The rules governing CIC companies mean that their assets can only be used for their social objectives and there is a limit to the money that can be distributed to shareholders: 5% above the Bank of England base rate to a maximum of 35% of profits.

Animal Trust does not charge consultation fees, so all pets are initially seen free of charge. If it turns out there’s nothing wrong, there's no charge. If treatment or medicine is required, prices are published on the website, so clients can see exactly what everything costs.

Founder Owen Monie says: “We are here to provide a comprehensive vet service for people who earn a real, living wage. We want to deliver the best access to good vet care and to remove the barriers that stop people getting care for their animals – that’s why we provide free consultations. This means pet owners can get professional advice without worrying about having to pay a consultation fee. If no treatment is needed – there’s no fee. It’s as simple as that.”

Owen says that large corporations argue they can bring better management, efficiency and innovation to the sector, and claim that costs have gone up in part due to advances in animal medicine and clients’ expectations.

"That may well be true, but big isn’t always better. In addition to its legal status as a CIC, Animal Trust lives by a set of core values (straightforward, accessible, sustainable and fair) that are becoming increasingly meaningful to customers and clients as an alternative to companies who appear to be only interested in the bottom line. There isn’t an NHS equivalent for animals – so is becoming a CIC the model that all vet practices should be looking to adopt?"

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