Boaters Reps Meeting, 23rd October

Helen Hutt reports

Well, folks, this was quite something. First on the agenda was, of course, the new licensing proposals. Matthew Symonds, CRT Boating Manger, made it clear from the outset that this is a done deal, acknowledging that there will be adverse reactions, no amount of complaining will change CRT’s mind. They are confident that legally they are within their rights and the proposals are fully supported by the Trustees. An across-the-board increase was considered as an option but, based on sightings (75% of movements were CCers, 25% home moorers), it was decided CCers should pay more. Widebeams, simply because they occupy more of the water. The boater consultation backed this up. It was considered that those with a home mooring (64%) were already paying considerably more than their licence fee to be on the water, therefore should not be subject to the uplift. The amount raised will increase the income from licences from 11% to 13%, partly making up for the Defra shortfall. Surprisingly to me, the meeting was divided in opinion, with two strongly in favour of the changes; three strongly against; and three sitting on the fence. We insisted the rationale behind the uplift (as I hope it will now be called) is explained when the November announcement is made so that at least boaters understand it. The cost of Gold Licences is still being calculated.

We were assured that other waterways users (fishermen, canoeists, paddle boarders) will all see an increase in their licence fees. The licence evasion rate has doubled in 5 years: The pandemic encouraging more people to take to the water, boaters moving less during this period and becoming used to ‘getting away with it’ because sightings were suspended, the cost of living crisis and more persistent health problems. More boats and particularly liveaboards on the water means more licence evasion and more intervention from CRT. There are currently around 2,000 unlicensed boats (some late payers, easily resolved) and another 700 ‘in the system’ where CRT’s welfare officers are involved in trying to help vulnerable boaters find solutions to their problems.

This year, CRT has offered support to 1,600 boaters. Licensing team is taking a slightly harder line without compromising help given to genuinely vulnerable boaters; looking at better use of technology; possibly using debt collection agencies and credit checks (one of the main problems is that some boaters give a different name for their licence than is on their bank account so cannot be traced); overstay requests could be automated to cut down admin. CRT deals with about 100 abandoned boats a year; it takes on average 2.5 years to go through the system before they can be removed from the water.

Persistent overstayers: I asked Matthew Symonds how boaters who reported such instances could be informed what was happening – privacy policies prevent them divulging this but he would consider if anything can be done. One possibility is to make the Index available on the website so that a particular boat’s registration status can be checked by anyone (provided the index number is displayed!).

Bookable moorings: more resources (including physical policing) are now in place to ensure moorings are not wrongly occupied. The increase in cost to £25 a night have not affected bookings and there has been no adverse feedback to it. There are plans to expand available spaces in London. Liverpool: cost is similar, plus £7 a day for electricity (bollards are not metered, therefore a flat charge has to be made). Winter moorings are being offered here for the first time. The pump-out contactless payment trial had gone well and the system will be rolled out over the coming weeks. A system is being set up for refunding unused cards, which will need to be returned to a dedicated CRT address, by 31st January 2024.

CSF: the Leeds facility was closed temporarily following persistent blocking of the Elsan with rags, shoes, clothing etc. It may be relocated or re-opened with security measures (eg CCTV). CRT is looking at alternatives to the universal and easily obtainable key eg a swipe card issued to each licence holder.