THE economic squeeze has been blamed for an increase in cruelty to horses in Wirral, according to the RSPCA.

New figures show that there were 61 complaints made about the welfare of the animals in Wirral in 2012 compared with 27 the previous year.

And inspectors say the tough economic climate and relative cheapness of horses are to blame for the rise in cases.

The numbers come as nationally three quarters of all horses do not have "animal passports" and are not micro-chipped which is a legal requirement.

As a result, the RSPCA is finding it more and more difficult to track down those responsible for cruelty.

RSPCA equine co-ordinator chief inspector Cathy Hyde said: “The passport system is failing and we estimate that a shocking 75% of horses coming into RSPCA care are not micro-chipped.

“Passports are not updated and, without micro-chipping or a central database, there is no enforcement.

"Horses can change hands for a small amount of money and end up in the hands of irresponsible owners and traders.

“They can’t be traced back to their owners, making it very difficult to prosecute and try to stop these people keeping horses.

”There are many reasons for the increase in welfare cases but the current climate is a major factor. You can buy a horse for as little as £25 now and we are seeing people with little money picking one up with no idea of how to care for it.

“People need to realise that horses are not easy pets to have and education needs to be given on how to look after them properly.”

Last year, 146 people across the country were served with a summons relating to horse welfare, compared to 119 in 2011, a 23% rise. The number of charges more than doubled, from 426 in 2011 to 779 in 2012.