The NBTA has had some correspondence and discussion with Canal & River Trust (CRT) regarding its enforcement against boaters without a home mooring as the Covid-19 lockdown eases.
The NBTA had asked CRT to suspend the 20-mile range requirement for boaters without a home mooring until social distancing was no longer required in the UK. This was in the context of some Bargee Travellers receiving an enforcement letter headed HMREL/C19. CRT refused to suspend the 20-mile range requirement, but provided some revealing information about its approach to enforcement during and after the lockdown.
The NBTA was very concerned about the HMREL/C19 letter; although this letter stated that during the Covid-19 lockdown CRT was prepared to renew licences for the full 12 months that it would not otherwise renew without a home mooring, the letter also implied that Bargee Travellers would be unfairly penalised for circumstances outside their control as it said: “You will be required to immediately commence cruising and demonstrate a significant improvement in your movement pattern” after the lockdown was lifted. In response CRT stated that it would amend the HMREL/C19 letter to say: “You will be required to immediately begin to cruise in line with our guidance for boats without a home mooring”. This is a small victory but it will make the lives of Bargee Travellers slightly easier.
The NBTA also asked the specific questions below and received the following responses. Information about enforcement during local lockdowns and about Section 8/13 notices was provided in a telephone discussion between the CRT Boating Team and the NBTA.
Specific questions asked by the NBTA:
• How exactly will CRT take into account the impact of restrictions to movement and unplanned or unforeseen stoppages on boaters’ ability to cruise when assessing overall cruising and in reviewing licences and cruising behaviour?
CRT: We will pro rata our cruising requirement for licences that have run into the lockdown period. Our expectation of movement and turns etc will have been reduced or removed up until the 1st of July in so it’s only right that we then look at the remaining (or preceding) months of the licence proportionally. We will also additionally consider any local lockdowns, such as Leicester, and discount the period of lockdown boaters face from our expectations. We’ll also not be sending 14 day reminders to those affected on commencing new process. Our guidance around stoppages remains consistent, but in cases where local downs exacerbate the issue, we’d ask that boaters call our team to discuss and make us aware so we can consider the circumstances.
• How will CRT support those boaters who are reluctant to leave areas that they consider to be safe from the risk of infection, especially when they can move every 14 days within those areas?
CRT: Where there is a medical need or a requirement to shield, we’ll continue to communicate with boaters to check-in and offer support or signposting. We’ll manage the situation like an Approved Extended Stay. Again, where a specific location is critical to the provision or receipt of urgent support, we’ll work with the boater to try to find a solution that continues that arrangement. Our Boat Licence Customer Support teams will discuss any specific cases with boaters but we won’t approve a stay where the issue is purely one of preference. Cruising, being onboard next to passers-by, and mooring on towpaths are all shown to be very low-risk by current government advice, particularly when precautions such as face coverings and wiping down of surfaces are taken. We’ve got to balance the situation with allowing those that want or need to move, access to moorings and facility by keeping moving where we can.
• How will CRT support those boaters who do not feel that it is safe for them to move at all yet, due to the infection risks associated with passing through locks, bridges and areas where the towpath is busy and crowded, given that they obviously have to disembark onto the towpath to use locks and bridges and to moor and untie boats, and given that social distancing on narrow towpaths is not possible either due to the volume of people using them or the lack of space to keep two metres apart?
CRT: As mentioned above, passing people on the towpath, particularly whilst on board, is believed to be very low-risk – even when passing on foot at less than 2-metres if wearing a face covering. I accept that there may be a degree of concern about using shared features such as locks: When I shop for my family I experience the same concern when using trolleys and handling items in public. Hand sanitisers, face coverings, not touching your face and good handwashing practise can strongly mitigate against the risk and hopefully provide a degree of mental reassurance and comfort in circumstances where boaters are using locks and other features. We are trying to restart cruising as gently as possible – despite people being able to cruise since late May, our first 14 day reminders only went out at the start of this week (w/b 29th JUne). In that vein, and considering our pro rata approach to cruising range, boaters don’t need to move too far, as long as they have planned out their movement, and only have to do so each 14 days in most cases. I believe with some planning, that the use of shared features can be seriously reduced to help reduce risk and concern.
• How will CRT’s credit control team support boaters facing financial difficulties in paying their boat licence fees as the result of the lockdown?
CRT: I’ve worked with our head of group accounting since the beginning of this pandemic to ensure we’re offering support to those financially affected. We’ve taken steps in many cases to help boaters with payment plans and deferred payments, in exceptional circumstances, in order to relieve pressure at this time. This was initially for three months (to late June) but we have agreed to extend this support. We’ve also taken the decision to open no new cases to pursue debt and to minimise progression of many existing cases. This situation remains under review as we move through the pandemic.
The NBTA had expressed concern that it would be grossly unfair to force boaters without a home mooring to spend considerable time explaining and justifying their entire 6 or 12-month cruising pattern in the context of the lockdown and its after-effects in order to avoid losing their homes.
CRT’s Boat Licence Customer Support Manager responded by stating: “I hope that you can see that we are trying to be gentle in our reintroduction of cruising and, as such, the requirement for information regarding cruising patterns will likely be required in far fewer cases than ordinarily: we understand these are exceptional times and will consider that when reviewing licence cruising behaviour. Whilst I envisage the review process will create the Trust a little more work that usual, I’m hopeful that we won’t pass that on to boaters and only in the more/most questionable cases will we be needing the level of detail you allude to … It’s really important that we understand our boaters’ position and that they, in turn, are clear on ours. As previously, the Trust will not be suspending the requirement to move each 14 days and will still expect cruising behaviour concerning turns, overstays etc to be inline with our guidance. I hope, though, that you can see we will take a view on the range for individual cases and will fairly factor in the affect of lockdown, and will continue to do so during future periods of local or national lockdown. We will continue to expect boaters whose licence has started post-lockdown to adhere to our guidance but ask that if there are issues then they speak with us to help us understand the problem and accommodate it if appropriate and possible”.
Boats that are trapped inside any local lockdowns, such as in Leicester or the stricter lockdown within Wales, will not be expected to move and will be treated in the same way as all boats were during the national lockdown, with no movement expected and no enforcement of boat movement. For those boats that are trapped outside a local lockdown with no onward movement possible, this will be treated as an unplanned stoppage. CRT states that if boats can continue to move they should do so, but if this is not possible, CRT states that it will be aware of local lockdowns and will take any non-movement into account when renewing licences without a home mooring.
Section 8/13 notices and boat seizures
CRT stated that no new Section 8/13 notices should have been served during the national lockdown, but from 1st July 2020 the service of Section 8/13 notices has started again, focusing mainly on abandoned boats. No Section 8/13 notices should have been served on liveaboard boats in the few weeks following 1st July. No boats were seized and removed during the lockdown, but boat seizures are now starting again.
Finally, some members of the CRT enforcement team are still furloughed but all of its enforcement staff will be back at work from 1st August 2020.