Recently CRT legally removed a boat from its waters using the section 8 process and in so doing effectively made a mentally ill boater homeless. This is a pretty provocative statement and feelings around this event recently ran high on the boating forums and web journals. In short order a petition asking CRT to stop evicting vulnerable boaters raised 4000 signatures.
NABO recently contacted CRT by email the main content of which we hope is a serious contribution to the debate and continues in the theme of NABO wanting to be a "critical friend" of CRT. We believe the Trust would help itself and some of its customers if there was a central point of responsibility such as a welfare manager (the job title is irrelevant) through whom both boaters and the Trusts own enforcement team could liaise.
The email is reprinted below
For a charity that seeks to increase the number of "friends" , volunteers, bequests etc the one thing you do not want is bad publicity regardless as in this case even if it would appear the law is on your side. This is why their PR office quickly circulated their rebuttal to boating associations and other organisations.
The number of boaters who need support of a social or medical nature (as opposed to just financial) seems to me to be increasing even though the numbers that reach the sanction of having their boat removed is very small.
This is why I strongly support the need for a welfare manager (not officer) I believe this person needs to be skilled in the knowledge of social services, NHS , benefit system works so that he can involve these agencies if needed at an early stage. In my view we need a manager at a level such that the enforcement team have to work through him if the case meets certain criteria. They need to be of a level that can recommend the legal process is deferred whilst an interim solution is found.
I am sure there are vulnerable people on boats who fall under the radar currently and the boating community generally are pretty good at self help but it would help if there was a person who could be contacted for support by boaters, boating associations , chaplains , dog walkers , enforcement officers, volunteers etc.
Some boaters might need help to get back on land where better care/ facilities may be available. Others might need a helping hand to obtain benefits to which they might be entitled that would help them either continue cruising or fund a mooring.
CRT is not and should not be a housing association or social service but it needs to recognise that if some of its customers are in trouble they in turn have a problem. I support the principle of enforcement of the terms of the cruising license but just think a little less spent on subsidising partnerships , taking a small bite out of the £1.5M towpath management budget or better still some of the money saved as a result of the recent resignation of the CRT legal director being spent on a skilled manager would pay dividends here both for boaters and as a genuine good bit of PR for CRT.
National Association of Boat Owners
The above email also formed part of an article written by Allan Richards in Narrowboatworld with the comment “It is very pleasing to see that NABO are taking up the issue of CRT’s treatment of vulnerable and disadvantaged boaters in a sensible and non confrontational manner”.
Separately Simon Robbins NABO London representative has formally asked CRT to provide details of the way it works with vulnerable people.
By way of balance we publish an extract from CRTs response to the petition.
I've spoken to my colleagues in the relevant departments and a lot of information on the petition is just not accurate and we’re getting in touch with 38degrees to point this out. It’s difficult to go into the ins and outs of individual cases, because we want to respect the privacy of people concerned, but we think it’s necessary to clear some things up, while making sure we don’t breach confidentiality.
In Maggie’s (not her real name) case, we spent 15 months trying to work things out with her before we took action. This involved working with a mental health organisation which was also in contact with Maggie directly. We ensured that at all times we operated with humanity and concern for Maggie’s safety and dignity. As always, we only remove boats after review by a Court and with an appropriate Court order. On the final day, a representative from the mental health organisation was there throughout, and was fully supportive of our actions. We always have High Court Enforcement officers onsite during boat removals and we made sure one of these was female. Because of the sensitivity of the situation the police were also involved, and we closed the towpath to give Maggie more privacy. Alongside the mental health organisation, we made sure Maggie had all the details of housing support agencies and emergency shelter, who had advised us they could only take instruction from the people directly involved.
This is how we act in all these situations: we know how devastating the consequences can be for the boaters concerned. We don’t take these decisions lightly and, when we do act, we make sure that those organisations able to provide support are fully involved. We also try to keep the boaters’ families informed. To give a bit more context, during 2013 the Trust contacted nearly 250 boaters as part of the enforcement process where people are living aboard boats. The vast majority of these cases were successfully resolved and the Trust only needed to enforce Court orders against 6 boats.
CRT currently, apparently would rather engage with vulnerable boaters through the waterways chaplaincy, however whilst they provide a valuable service, it needs to be recognised that many vulnerable boaters will not have anything to do with those from a religious background no matter how well meaning.
In summary, it cost £20,000 in legal fees and substantially more in management time over the last 15 months and the result was one less non compliant boat on the water and one homeless boater. NABO appreciates that if the boater doesn’t ask for support then the various charities and social services find it very difficult to assist.
However NABO suspects that there are an increasing number of boaters currently on the water who for medical or financial reasons will be in need of support and if given at a reasonably early stage they could avoid becoming a burden on the CRT enforcement and legal process. In our view what is needed is a central point of contact for concerned boaters, canal users and patrol officers. This manager would need to have the experience of how the various social, health and charities work and interact and could enlist their support. Not only might this be cost advantageous and from a PR viewpoint win CRT more of the friends it seeks