NBTA statement on CRT Review of Boat Licensing

The National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) has a number of concerns about the Canal & River Trust (CRT) review of boat licensing. The NBTA is opposed to any increases in the cost of boat licences except for annual increases in line with inflation. Any price increase will make it harder for poorer boat dwellers to pay the licence fee and will result in more boats becoming unlicensed. The NBTA will do whatever it can to defend boaters who cannot afford to pay an increased licence fee.

The Standard Canal and River Licence must continue to provide access to navigate the entire waterway system of CRT. The price of a boat licence must remain the same regardless of whether a boat is licensed with or without a home mooring. There should be no differential pricing or regional licences.

CRT is a charity. It must carry out its charitable objects and it cannot act outside or against these objects. It cannot use the boat licensing system as social engineering to control who uses its waterways. CRT’s charitable objects include at 2.6.1 “The improvement of the conditions of life in socially and economically disadvantaged communities in such vicinity”. This means that it cannot use differential pricing to discourage people from licensing their boats without a home mooring.

CRT states that it is reviewing the licensing system because it is “overly complex”. The NBTA refutes this proposition. NBTA caseworkers currently assist around 170 boaters each year. Over the eight years of the NBTA’s existence, we have not received one single request for advice from boaters who find the CRT/ BW licensing system “overly complex”, “unfair” or “out of date”.

Therefore the consultation appears to be spurious. It follows that there must be an ulterior motive for conducting the consultation. We believe that CRT has already decided on the changes it will introduce and will go ahead with these regardless of the outcome of the consultation.

CRT states that many boaters feel the current licensing system can be perceived as unfair. It is very important to distinguish between perceived unfairness and actual unfairness. Addressing perceived unfairness is a waste of resources. To do so is likely to have costly unintended consequences; to reinforce prejudice and division and to create actual unfairness.

CRT claims in its press release of 20th February 2017 that the boat licensing system been in place unchanged for over 20 years. This is patently untrue. Since 1997 there have been at least eight consultations regarding the boat licensing system:

January 2015 – Changes to boat licence terms and conditions;
June 2013 – Reforming Business Boating Licensing consultation;
May 2012 – Houseboat Certificate Terms and Conditions consultation;
November 2010 – Boat Licence Changes, Payment Discounts and T&Cs consultation;
November 2008 – Consultation on increasing the licence fee without a home mooring by £150.00;
October 2007 – Public Consultation on Licence Fees;
June 2005 – Licence Fee Consultation;
May 2002 – A fresh look at BW’s craft licensing structure: Consultation Paper for Boaters.

CRT states that the review of boat licensing will be “cost neutral”. If the review is to be cost neutral, then any reallocation of costs within the boat licensing system must be progressive and not regressive. That is, it should not penalise those on low incomes in favour of the wealthy.

The NBTA makes the following comments on specific aspects of the licensing system and the forthcoming consultation. The Prompt Payment Discount should be retained for all boaters regardless of whether they renew their licences online, by telephone or by post. To disadvantage those who do not or cannot use the internet; who cannot afford to use the internet; who do not have regular or reliable internet access or who do not carry out financial transactions online for fear of fraud, would be discriminatory and would fall foul of the Equality Act 2010, as evidenced in the judgment LH Bishop Electrical Co Ltd & Others v HMRC Commissioners [2013] UKFTT 522 (TC).

Those licensing their boats online should be able to pay in 12 monthly instalments. At present this is only available to those who licence their boats by post. The availability of 12 monthly instalments should be more widely publicised by CRT.

The Late Payment Charge is grossly disproportionate and is not a true reflection of the cost of chasing late payers. In addition, it is unjust to penalise the new owner of a boat that has remained on CRT’s waterways unlicensed for more than one month by forcing them to pay the Late Payment Charge and denying them the Prompt Payment Discount when they were not responsible for the boat being unlicensed. This practice contravenes the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

A boater who cancels a direct debit because they have sold one boat and bought another, should not be denied the facility to pay for the new licence by direct debit on the grounds that they are a bad credit risk because they cancelled the previous direct debit.

The consultation should be publicised in a way that will reach Bargee Travellers. Many Bargee Travellers do not have regular access to a postal address or to the internet. Any approach that relies on publication on the CRT web site and online surveys will exclude many of our community, especially those who are older or on low incomes. This would amount to age discrimination. Email and online questionnaires should be considered as a supplement to paper questionnaires, not the opposite.