In a landmark judgement issued on 25th June 2020 (AB v London Borough of Camden (HB)  UKUT 158 (AAC)), the Upper Tribunal has confirmed that Housing Benefit is payable for boat licence fees because the boat licence fee if living aboard is rent. Specifically, the boat licence fee is a payment in respect of a licence or permission to occupy a dwelling and thus it qualifies under Regulation 12(1)(b) of the Housing Benefit Regulations. Regulation 12(1)(b) is directly transposed to the Universal Credit Regulations so this judgement also applies to claims for the boat licence fee as housing costs in Universal Credit.
Upper Tribunal Judge Mr E Mitchell found that the boat licence without a permanent mooring qualifies under this regulation because the boat dweller without a permanent mooring is required to make a payment in respect of a licence to occupy the land, including land covered with water, that while moored, comprises part of his houseboat dwelling. Although the decision was made in respect of a boat licensed without a home mooring, it also covers boat licences with a home mooring (Housing Benefit for mooring fees is already within the scope of the regulations in Regulation 12(1)(f) which is also transposed to the Universal Credit regulations).
In paragraph 69 of the judgement, Judge Mitchell said:
“…a ‘dwelling’ is comprised of more than simply the houseboat. It includes the land used for the purposes of mooring it. When a houseboat is moored, the dwelling is comprised for housing benefit purposes of the houseboat itself, the canal or river bank used for mooring and, probably, also the land beneath the vessel (given the Interpretation Act 1978 definition of land, which includes land covered by water). If someone other than the person dwelling in the houseboat owns the land comprised within the houseboat dwelling, the owner in principle is free to licence its use, for mooring purposes, to that person.”
He continued in paragraphs 82 and 83:
“I therefore conclude that payments made by Mr B to the Canal & River Trust were payments in respect of a licence to occupy that part of his houseboat dwelling comprised of land owned or managed by the Trust. It is not disputed that the payments are periodical in nature nor that they are made in respect of a dwelling occupied by Mr B as his home. The payments therefore fall within regulation 12(1)(b) of the 2006 Regulations and constitute ‘rent’ for the purposes of that regulation.
It follows that the local authority, acting on 1 December 2016, did not establish a proper statutory ground for superseding Mr B’s award of housing benefit. The authority’s decision is set aside. For entitlement purposes, the result is that the authority’s actions on 1 December 2016 had no effect on Mr B’s existing housing benefit award. That is the effect of the decision given before the start of the reasons for this decision.”
Unfortunately the judge also decided that the costs of compulsory third party insurance and Boat Safety Scheme examination did not qualify for Housing Benefit under Regulation 12(1)(b) on the grounds that these payments “…were made in respect of services necessary in order for the conditions for grant of a licence to be satisfied” and were not payments in respect of the boat licence itself.
The Judge made it clear that he was not drawing a distinction between a boat licence without a home mooring, a boat licence with a home mooring or a houseboat certificate: the decision covers all three. He also used the word ‘houseboat’ in the everyday sense to mean a boat that is used as a home.
This welcome decision follows a difficult period for boat dwellers due to an adverse judgement in the Upper Tribunal in 2017 (Kirklees MBC v JM  UKUT 219 (AAC)) which was undefended by the boater, and which had reversed a Social Security and Child Support Commissioners’ decision of 2002 (CH 884 2002) that boat licence fees, regardless of whether the boater had a mooring, were eligible for Housing Benefit. From 2017, many boat dwellers both with and without a home mooring saw the Housing Benefit for their boat licence either withdrawn on review or refused with a new claim.
If you have been refused Housing Benefit for the boat licence fee or if your Housing Benefit was stopped, you can now either make a new claim or seek permission to appeal out of time. The same applies to those who claimed Universal Credit for the boat licence fee and were refused.
If your Housing Benefit was refused or stopped and you did not appeal, you may be able to get permission to appeal out of time. If you did appeal, your appeal should have been stayed pending the outcome of this case and you should now contact the Tribunal with the judgement. If you appealed and your appeal was not stayed but was decided against you, then you should contact the Tribunal for permission to appeal out of time.
The boater was represented by barrister Justin Bates, instructed by the NBTA.
CRT and Islington Council’s much vaunted green washing project is not going smoothly…
In the first half of 2018, Canal and River Trust (CRT) and Islington Borough Council (IBC) announced their intention to introduce “eco” moorings either side of the Islington Tunnel on the Regent’s Canal. Despite CRT and IBC both admitting that boaters had a negligible effect on emissions compared with the hundreds of thousands cars, lorries and buses which pass nearby every month, this did not stop them from proposing the banning of generators & engine running and, after a 2 year trial period, the banning of burning even smokeless fuels.
While Paul Convery, a Caledonian ward councillor and mouthpiece for anti boater feeling in the area, saw the scheme as addressing the specific concerns of canalside residents, the council and CRT were soon presenting the scheme as a “pilot”, although for what exactly they seemed unsure or unwilling to say.
In the original plan, the scheme was supposed to start in October 2019. But in two meetings held by CRT in September 2019, one with organisations & interested parties and the other with boaters, it became clear that this was not going to happen, and the CRT PR machine continues to be eerily quiet on the subject even now.
It also became clear that the whole scheme, which sought to solve a problem which doesn’t exist, had been planned on the back of a fag packet.
While the scheme was going to be assessed after 2 years before the solid fuel ban was to be introduced, the success criteria given by IBC spokespeople was nebulous to say the least, despite persistent pushing for clarity; whether the moorings would be bookable or not had not been decided; whether the electricity would be charged through the MeterMac system used on CRT long term moorings or some other system had not been decided; the distance between the electricity bollards was still up for discussion; the requirement for 32A supply, which an effective electrical heating system would need, and the safety implications of this had not even been thought about. But in hindsight most of these points remained moot as the CRT project management team had still not been able to agree an extension of the mains electricity supply to the towpath. At the time of writing – more than 2 months after the scheme was supposed to start – this still hasn’t been agreed.
But these technical matters are a distraction from the real crime of the eco moorings: that they will exclude a large number of boaters from being able to moor here. In the meeting with boaters, the IBC project manager came up with ideas about how they could help boaters upgrade their boats to meet the requirements to moor; but all of these ideas were around the technical advice they could give on how best to spend several thousand pounds. When challenged on what they could do to avoid the social exclusion of boaters, she just gave a blank stare, as did CRT.
The eco moorings are seriously at risk of becoming moorings for single night stays and the increasing number of ghost boats, neither of which need to run their engines to charge batteries or heat water, as well as boaters for whom money is not a serious problem and who are willing to be nudged into changing their boats at huge expense. Despite their sheepishness, this is how CRT see the future of boating in the capital. Unless we challenge their green washing now, gentrification by stealth will begin whenever the scheme finally starts.
This year Canal and River Trust (CRT) is running elections for the CRT council.
CRT council is an advisory board for CRT but also appoints CRT trustees. Liveaboard boaters without a home mooring are seriously under-represented on CRT advisory boards. So we are supporting one liveaboard boaters without a home mooring to be elected onto the council.
When CRT opens the polls, please vote for Dave Mendes da Costa.
With 34 people standing for just 4 posts, it’s more likely Dave will get elected if you just vote for Dave and no one else.
Here is a quote from Dave Mendes da Costa for the CRT council election;
‘I have been living on my narrowboat Stellar for six years and have had the pleasure of exploring many of the UK’s canals. Our waterways offer a unique opportunity to travel and live in a different way and I want to protect this way of life for everyone. I believe this means keeping the navigation open and in good condition, and challenging the reduction of Trust staff with the knowledge and experience needed to maintain the waterways. It means taking steps to reduce crime on the towpath (taking inspiration from London’s Canal Watch initiative) and increasing the quantity and quality of boaters’ facilities. It means cherishing our heritage by keeping the canals a living environment. I’m an active member of the community, chairing the NBTA London branch in 2017 and volunteering as a caseworker. As chair, I helped set up the Lea Boaters Collective, a coalition of local organisations who came together to hold the EA and the Trust to account following their slow response to a large oil spill on the River Lea. If I am elected to the Council I will bring this experience of successful cooperation, representing all boaters and working to improve, renew and restore our waterways.’
Eligible voters will receive an email from the Civica Election Services (CES), the Trust’s elections partner, containing a link to the elections portal and instructions on how to cast your vote.
Everyone is up for sharing the waterways, and in particular the towpath, right?
We certainly are, and sharing is a common mantra of the Canal and River Trust (CRT), and organisations such as the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), when they introduce new policies or propose changes in towpath usage. Given this, you would think that sharing the towpath would be an area of common ground. But when you compare what we mean by sharing and what they mean, it becomes clear that it never can be.
As boaters in general, and itinerants in particular, we have the established right to moor on the towpath for up to two weeks and then move on to another place for up to another two weeks and soon. We use the towpath as our home and then move, leaving that space free for someone else. While we are moored up, other people -walkers, cyclists – are still free to use the towpath; and still others -anglers, duck feeders, canoeists launching their boats etc – are free to use unoccupied towpath to pursue these activities. The space is being shared in a common way by a myriad of people.
Sometimes – OK, quite often in London – we aren’t able to moor in the particular place or area that we may want to; and so it goes for the anglers, duck feeders and canoeists. In other words, we have a common (if often atomized) experience of what is a shared, common space.
But that isn’t what CRT and its friends at the IWA think the future of sharing should be. To them, sharing the towpath shouldn’t be a common, shared experience, but rather an individuated one; and to this end we are seeing more and more partitioning of the towpath.
Whether it be the London Mooring Strategy’s dedicated pop up mooring spaces, prohibited mooring in watersports zones, increased permanent business moorings and further developed winter moorings, or the IWA’s Vision for London’s mooring free spaces to improve the visual experience and increased limited stay visitor moorings, the language of sharing predicates a partitioning of what should be a common space. In this version, sharing is done at the expense of a group of users (normally itinerant boaters). With each guarantee for a particular group to use a space, at least one other group is denied the ability to use it.
So the next time CRT and its friends start talking about “sharing” and “fairness”, just think about who is going to lose out in the sharing newspeak equation.
Andrzej from the boat commonly called ‘the Caravan Boat’, has been evicted by the Canal and River Trust (CRT). CRT sent over 10 enforcement bailiffs and CRT staff members with two RIBs and two police officers to evict Andrzej. Barring him from retrieving his belongings, including his work tools, CRT towed his boat and craned it out at Bulls Bridge (West London) before transporting it 200 miles to Cheshire.
It was 2 months before we were allowed to retrieve what remained of his possessions, and due to CRT’s legendary incompetence, some 80% of these had suffered water damage.
Andrzej had applied for a licence for his boat; he had up-to-date boat safety; insurance and he was using his boat for navigation and intending to carry on navigating. Therefore, we believe CRT has broken the British Waterways Act 1995 section 17 where it states our right to not be refused a licence. We have started the process of challenging CRT refusing Andrzej a licence.
Sadie who skippers for the Pride of Batchworth and a local scout leader is under threat of eviction from her mooring at the Chess Basin by Waterways Heritage Limited for her boat not being ‘smart’ enough.
It started when waterways charity Canal and River Trust (CRT) which owns most of the England’s inland waterways leased the moorings to private company Waterways Heritage Limited.
Sadie was raised on her boat at the Chess Basin moorings. Sadie has been on the mooring for 34 years. It was her mother’s boat which was built on the mooring with the intention that it would stay on the mooring. In fact the boat is too high for travelling on the canal. Her boat is unable to be moored anywhere else.
Waterways Heritage Limited told Sadie that the mooring rent would go up from under £3000 to more than £8,500 per year. After much thought about how much less Sadie would have to live on per year, Sadie agreed to a new tenant’s agreement with Waterways Heritage Limited. However, Tim Woodbridge, the director of Waterways Heritage Limited, refused Sadie.
Within months of his lease of the Chess Basin, Woodbridge had cut down trees and levelled the environmentally friendly garden, replacing it with turf. Ahead of a new hotel being built on the old Travis Perkins site, he then issued eviction notices to Sadie and another tenant who has a narrow boat there.
Sadie has told us that:
“This has been absolutely devastating. I bent over backwards to meet every demand from Mr Woodbridge, but he clearly had his own agenda after taking over the lease from CRT.
“My mother had Hibiscus built here, and being here and looking after the boat and the garden is part of honouring her memory. I have no idea now where I will go or what I can do.”
Ali Rawlings was a resident at the Chess Basin moorings until she got a termination notice:
“I came into the basin 6 months ago as a temporary measure as I needed to sort some things out in my personal life. I was told I could have a permanent mooring when the improvements were made. My mooring was fenced, I was given a shed and a lawn was laid.
“Then out of the blue I was given a termination notice. I was told to pack up and leave within 6 weeks.
“I was told if I blacked and painted my boat and made it look smart I could reapply to go back. The cost would then be doubled. I will not be painting and blacking my boat as in my opinion it is not necessary.”
NBTA London proposes a solution for ‘pop up’ trade moorings which it believes could benefit roving trade boats without negative effects on other boaters, and support the ideal that that towpath is for all boaters to use.
In the Canal and River Trust’s (CRT) London Mooring Strategy, CRT proposes pre-bookable ‘pop up’ moorings for trade boats for a ‘short time’ on the towpath at Kings Cross. It isn’t clear if other boaters would be able to use the mooring space when it’s not being used by trade boats, nor is it made clear how long a ‘short time’ is. CRT hasn’t indicated if they are planning to charge for these ‘pop up’ moorings.
If a charge is levied on trade boats for the use of the mooring this will disadvantage poorer traders and give CRT a great incentive to turn yet more towpath into permanent business moorings. It would give an elitism of mooring with people paying the trade premium to access desirable moorings whether they trade or not.
If other boaters cannot use the moorings when they are not being used by trade boats, or if the moorings are more than 14 days, this would disadvantage other waterways users and make them no different from any other business mooring.
NBTA London believes that all waterways users should be able to use the towpath, be it for living, leisure or trade. We are therefore proposing that
where pre-bookable ‘pop up’ trade moorings are proposed by CRT, they are no longer than 14 days, not chargeable, and allow other boaters to use them
when not being used by trading boats. Trade boats should have priority on the ‘pop up’ moorings, so they could ask someone who is already there to move but it must be reasonable. A trade boater shouldn’t be able to just turn up late in the day and tell someone to move on, for example; clear signs at the mooring space would be good to give prior warning of the booking.