The petition was again handed in to 10 Downing Street on 8th April 2017 during the 200-strong Boats Are Homes march, which continued to the DEFRA headquarters to hand in a letter demanding that the Government takes responsibility for stopping Canal & River Trust’s punitive and unlawful enforcement policy against boat dwellers. There is a full report here http://www.bargee-traveller.org.uk/boats-are-homes-march-boat-dwellers-refuse-to-be-thrown-off-the-waterways/
To: The Prime Minister
Boats Are Homes! Prevent the Eviction of Boat Dwellers
Please act to protect the homes of itinerant boat dwellers in the UK by stopping the Canal & River Trust from refusing licences and pressuring boat families into homelessness.
Why is this important?
Canal & River Trust (CART) declared on 13th February 2015 that from 1st May this year it will refuse to re-license all boats that “don’t move … far enough or often enough” to meet its Guidance for Boaters without a Home Mooring – unless they take a permanent mooring. This places boat families under unique pressure as many cannot afford a mooring. Many boat dwellers work locally and some are key workers. Many require access to local services such as health care and schools and will be put to extreme difficulty if forced to move unreasonable distances. Like it or not, socio-political realities have made the waterways an affordable housing resource for many families. Canal & River Trust has long denied this reality, describing themselves as a 'navigation authority' and harbouring a marked hostility towards the water-based community. This position is no longer tenable and CART needs to accept its responsibilities as a landlord.
CART's new policy sets requirements that go beyond those stated in Section 17 (3)(c)(ii) of the British Waterways Act 1995. Boat dwellers are happy to comply with the clearly stated, lawful requirement not to remain continuously in any one place for more than 14 days. However, the 1995 Act does not contain any requirement to travel a minimum distance or to follow any specific cruising pattern beyond the 14-day limit. The new policy means that boat dwellers are being forced to travel distances that put them out of reach of their jobs or their children's schools, and make it impossible for them to access health care or to stay near elderly relatives. If they choose to keep their homes they will be faced with the need to give up working, take their children out of school, miss out on vital health care and abandon elderly family members.
If a boat licence is terminated, or renewal refused, the boat is then unlicensed. CART has the power under Section 8 (2) of the British Waterways Act 1983 to seize, remove and sell unlicensed boats from its waterways. Section 13 (3) (a) of the British Waterways Act 1971 gives CART the power to demolish a houseboat that it has seized. In cases where a boat is lived on, CART obtains a Court Order and also obtains an Injunction banning the boat dweller from ever returning to its waterways. Breach of an Injunction carries the penalty of arrest and imprisonment. Therefore, the boat dweller not only becomes homeless but loses the only asset that they own. Information provided in response to a Freedom of information request showed that in 2010-2011 the enforcement team had a target to seize 100 "non compliant" boats each year. When boats are seized, CART contracts with a firm of Bailiffs to tow the boat away and the Police are present.
Permanent residential moorings that boat dwellers can legally live on are in very short supply. Where they exist, they are very expensive (up to £25,000 per year in London). The majority of marinas will turn you away if you live on your boat. Over 90% of permanent moorings are non-residential (“leisure moorings”). CART knows that if boat dwellers live on leisure moorings they risk having planning enforcement action taken against them for unauthorised residential use. In London and the south there is a severe shortage of moorings and mooring fees are vastly inflated. CART's own directly managed moorings are priced using an auction system where the highest bidder wins. Some private moorings have waiting lists of 9 years and more. There is no security of tenure for boat moorings so even if you do take a mooring, you could be evicted at the whim of the marina owner. CART is the largest inland navigation authority in the UK. It owns or manages some 80% of the waterways. The Environment Agency and other smaller bodies own and/or manage the remaining 20%. If CART refuses to renew the licence of a boat dweller, there are few, if any, other places that a boat dweller can take their boat.
CART's latest move is yet another attack on the right to use and live on a boat without a permanent mooring; a right that Parliament enshrined in law in 1995 when it passed Section 17 (3)(c)(ii) of the British Waterways Act 1995. Before 1995 British Waterways (which became CART in 2012) sought powers to force all boats to have a mooring and criminal penalties against anyone caught living on their boat without a permanent residential mooring and a houseboat certificate. Parliament refused British Waterways these powers and acted to protect the 10,000 or so boat dwellers that would have become homeless in 1995 by wording Section 17 (3)(c)(ii) of the British Waterways Act 1995 in such a way that it included a wide variety of patterns of boat use including those boat dwellers who needed to remain close to a place of work, children's education, health care or elderly relatives. The reasoning behind the wording of this section can be found in the Minutes of Evidence of the Select Committees that drafted the 1995 Act.