In October CRT annouced their intention to increase licence costs by an unprecidented 5% above inflation.
They have also decided to apply increasing levels of surcharge to wide beam boats and continuous cruisers.
NABO Has witten to Richard Parry to make our views knows, and we have a reply. The text is proved below.
We have approached our legal team for a view on the issues involved, and are now seaking a face to face meeting with Mr Parry.
Dear Richard Following our latest NABO Council meeting and considering unbelievably intensive and widespread input received via our membership and extensive social media channels, it would be remiss of me NOT to comment on the planned changes
Following our latest NABO Council meeting and considering unbelievably intensive and widespread input received via our membership and extensive social media channels, it would be remiss of me NOT to comment on the planned changes to your charges. I wish to state very clearly that NABO is extremely concerned by the proposed boat licence increases. It is worryingly clear that CRT are trying to raise money from boaters because they can easily do so but continue to be notably less forthcoming on the more difficult issue of how they will be raising commensurate income from other users.
NABO’s stance has always been and continues to be that there should be one licence and one charge based on length of boat, not on use. The amount you will raise from the licence ‘surcharge’ on the minority of boaters that are continuously cruising is very small. This makes it difficult to understand why it has been imposed at all when even a small increase across the board would bring in much more to CRT’s coffers and would of course have the added benefit of being non-divisive. As it is, boat licence surcharges are seen by many boaters as divisive, undermining the community of the waterways. Already continuous cruisers are saying that, in return for paying more than the rest, they will want priority at locks and facilities and there is a strong perception that CRT’s introduction of these extra charges that squeeze minorities is immoral.
Whilst we fully accept that CRT has the legal right to set the basic fees, we are concerned that the current proposals have been determined without any meaningful consultation with those who will be most seriously affected by them. We also note with concern the findings of the Equalities Impact Assessment recently undertaken by your staff, which clearly shows the potentially negative impact of the suggested changes on those who are most vulnerable.
I would draw your attention to work we did in 2009, which proved that – legally – only one licence fee can be applied to private boats of a particular size, and that no distinction can be made between those with a home mooring and those without one, i.e., those who are continuously cruising. The surcharges you propose will thus not be legally enforceable, and we strongly urge you to reconsider. They are not based on any supporting evidence that continuous cruising or wide beams cost more or less than anyone else. Of course there are continuous cruisers who cover many lock miles but there are plenty that don’t. The same for wide beams, many never leave their marina, so they balance those that do. To re-iterate, there is no strong argument. CRT may be able to do ‘as they see fit’, but as a public service provider, that must be based on some public evidence. We are once again confirming the position with our solicitors.
We completely understand and deprecate the funding issues that CRT are currently facing; indeed, it was NABO’s initiative that established the “Fund Britain’s Waterways” movement which now has just on 100 supporting organisations. We nevertheless feel extremely strongly that you are hitting the boating communities unfairly with these above inflation increases to address the government funding shortcomings. Given that all other boating costs are also increasing, for example rocketing maintenance and mooring fees, we believe that you will simply see many boaters giving up and leaving the waterways that are under your control. The proposed plan of action could well result not only in a decrease in your income from boaters, but also a fall in the overall use of the waterways – hugely counter-productive on both counts. There is no analysis that we have seen to support the argument that these increases will not just kill off boating. Is that not rather important for CRT to be sure of?
I would ask you to reconsider your decision and, in the best traditions of pragmatism, be prepared to make a U-turn. We are very willing to discuss this further with you and your colleagues, in pursuit of our shared objective of enhanced use and enjoyment of our lovely waterways.
Dr M G Rodd FIET CEng
Chairman, National Association of Boat Owners
And CRT’s response.
Thank you for passing on the feedback from NABO on the boat licence fee changes we have announced. We appreciate that increasing prices will not be popular but the income we receive from boat licences, alongside growth in income from other commercial and fundraising activity, is more critical than ever to ensure our waterways are maintained and protected now and in the future.
We are fully committed to maintaining our waterways for navigation, and the 11% contribution boaters make towards our total expenditure through their licence fees is a vital component of our funding. However, we have been very clear that the scale of the investment required is in no way to be borne by boaters alone. We’re re-doubling our efforts to increase funds raised across all our activities. Alongside the changes to boat licensing, we are continuing to grow income from our investments (as far as possible given global market returns) and from other commercial sources such as hosting utilities and water transfer, which together contribute over 40% of our income. We are targeting a step-change in charitable income generation – from towpath users and other potential supporters, with fundraising income projected to grow steadily – by 10% each year over the next decade – whilst other waterways income from anglers, paddle sports and moorings is also set to increase.
I understand the position NABO has taken re a single licence fee. However, the responses to the licence review consultation showed there was clearly a range of views on the options we proposed, but only 14% of all boaters (33% of CC boaters/9% of boaters with a HM) who responded to the consultation supported the option to retain the current structure and apply the licence increase evenly across everyone. Arguably even the decades-old length-based fee structure introduced a form of variable licence fees for different boats based on one particular feature.
Although we made clear in the consultation that the growing costs and pressures of maintaining the waterways meant that boat licence fees would need to rise above inflation, the consultation asked boaters how we could apply these necessary rises equitably. Of course, we could have decided to apply a higher licence fee to all boats, but we believe that it is fairer to apply surcharges that reflect the greater utility that boats without a home mooring receive.
Boats without a home mooring spend almost all of the year actively using the navigations and towpath moorings more (often much more) than other boats. In the last financial year, of all boats sighted by the Trust out using the network (not on a long-term mooring, and only boats that were licensed at the time of sightings) one quarter were boats with a mooring and the other three quarters were boats without a home mooring (continuous cruisers or boats where the mooring status had not been confirmed yet). Boats without a home mooring are more reliant on water points, refuse points, Elsan and pump out facilities provided by the Trust than those with access to privately provided facilities at moorings. As part of our review of customer service facilities boaters who continuously cruise told us that Trust provided facilities (water, refuse/recycling. Elsan and pump out) were essential, and it confirmed that they use them regularly more than boaters with a home mooring. A surcharge on boats without a home mooring will reflect this added utility, as well as the cost of the greater impact that this has on our operations and the ageing infrastructure.
Although leisure boat licence pricing has been historically based on length, we have for five years applied a (rising) wide beam surcharge reflecting the additional water space that larger craft occupy. We also apply higher licence fees to ‘business’ boats (hire fleets etc) to reflect their commercial use. I recognise that some in the boating community believe that applying surcharges to some boat licences encourages division amongst boaters. That is not our intention, and neither do I believe that most boaters see any such divide between boaters whether with or without a home mooring. However, as the consultation findings show, many boaters do believe that it is only reasonable to reflect the utility benefits enjoyed by different boats in the price of the licence. It also reflects where we have seen the greatest growth in boat licence numbers. While no boater will have greater priority over another, boats without a home mooring already spend almost all of their time on the waterway navigations and the surcharge we are introducing will reflect this utility.
The consultation on boat licence fees was carried out by an independent company DJS Research, in line with industry best practice. Before making the decision on future boat licence pricing, we sought boaters’ views and looked very carefully at all the responses we received. Boats without a home mooring (continuous cruisers) make up approximately 20% of licenced boats on our network. 23% of responses to the consultation were from continuous cruisers, so their views were well represented in the consultation findings. We carried out the equalities impact assessment on our proposals to ensure we considered the potential impact of our changes. As you can see, we have identified some groups who may be more impacted by the changes, and we have identified mitigation measures that can help alleviate the impact on those groups. For those who may be experiencing financial challenges, our licence support team and welfare officers, along with the waterway chaplains, will be able to help identify possible support. We are encouraging any boater in this position to get in touch with us if they need support. We would appreciate NABOs help in communicating this message to boaters.
We are not aware of the legal work you refer to from 2009, although we will happily receive any legal opinion that you obtained at that time – or, indeed, a copy (or summary) of any legal advice you are currently seeking when it is available. The Trust believes that it has a wide discretion to set boat licence fees as it sees fit, under the terms of section 43 of the Transport Act 1962 – other than the reduction for ‘rivers only’ licences contained in the British Waterways Act 1971. This applies to different types of vessels as well as different uses, as it has done for many years.
As you know the Trust has launched our Keep Canals Alive campaign, and we welcome and support the Fund Britain’s Waterways campaign launched by NABO, IWA and other organisations. We are committed to working together to help secure the long-term funding vital for the future of our canals.
We appreciate that, like the Trust, boaters face other cost increases beyond the licence price, which is why we have carefully considered the impact on boaters of the rises before making our decision. We also recognise that the changes may result in some boaters deciding to leave the Trust’s waters, but we do not anticipate that there will be a significant change in boat numbers. We will continue to monitor boat numbers as the changes are introduced.
The decision on boat licence changes has been approved by the Board of Trustees, following a report on the consultation process. While we welcome continued dialogue with NABO to help safeguard the future of the waterways, and to help identify and support boaters who may be adversely impacted by the changes, the changes to boat licences will be introduced from April 2024.
Canal & River Trust