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Ministers are planning to ban the purchase of pets with cash in an attempt to reverse a rise in dog thefts during lockdown, it has been reported.

The Daily Mail reported that officials from the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs tasked with sketching out new legislation had found inspiration in an existing ban on selling scrap metal for cash.

It could lead to the prohibition of cash-in-hand pet sales, according to the Mail.

The Independent has contacted the three departments for comment.

The taskforce’s mission was announced last week, with the government claiming it had already undertaken “a huge amount of work” on the issue. Ministers recognised the “great distress” caused by “losing a much-loved family pet”, a spokesperson said.

Police have warned that crime gangs are turning to dog theft following a huge rise in demand for puppies during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The cost of a puppy has considerably increased over the past year, making this a lucrative market for organised criminals to exploit,” the National Police Chiefs’ Council said in February.

Nottinghamshire Police has gone as far as to appoint a dedicated lead officer for combatting pet theft.

The Liberal Democrats have called for stealing a dog to become a separate offence. Currently such crimes are dealt with under the Theft Act because pets are considered property.

Tim Farron, the party’s environment spokesperson, said earlier this month: “Dog theft should be a specific crime, and treated with much more gravity given that our pets are part of our families.”

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