In this blog, welfare officer Sean Williams talks about the work he’s been doing to help boaters in difficulty and, if you need it, how we might be able to help you.
More and more people are choosing to make their homes on water according to our latest boaters’ survey, with 39% of respondents describing their boat as their primary or secondary home, up from 32% in 2014.
With that in mind we want to make sure that boaters who are in need of support are able to get the help they need to enable them stay on the water. This blog covers some of the help that we’re able to provide if you, or someone you know, is struggling.
Living on a boat can be fantastic but it comes with certain demands that you wouldn’t expect in a house, especially if you choose to continuously cruise.
It can be a challenging lifestyle for some people. We want to make sure that people who have chosen to live aboard are given a fair chance to make it work for them and maintain the independence that, for many, goes hand-in-hand with a boating lifestyle.
I started as the Trust’s first welfare officer in 2014 to help staff work with boaters in need of more support as well as linking with the organisations that can provide practical help: places like the Citizens Advice Bureau, mental health charities and the waterway chaplains.
In the last 18 months I’ve supported over 189 cases of boaters in need of specialist help, and the team has made over 1,000 adjustments to help people who have run into short-term trouble.
I’ve heard many stories from staff, boaters and boating organisations about the hardships some people experience when living onboard. Here are some of the sort of situations the team and I have helped sort out. For data protection reasons these are anonymised, but tell the tale of the work we’re doing every day. Many people don’t realise that help is out there. If any of this chimes with you, you can get in touch with me or one of the team to talk things through.
Our team was trying to contact a boater as their boat was unlicensed. They couldn’t get a response and the local teams where concerned about the boater’s wellbeing. It was then that their friend got in touch with me on their behalf. The boater didn’t have an income and had been relying on handouts and friends’ support. They were frightened that they might lose their boat as they couldn’t afford to re-licence it so had stopped taking phone calls or opening their post. I met up with the boater and talked about what potential benefits were available, how they could apply for them, and told the boater about the organisations that could help. We spoke about immediate support and I signposted them to a local foodbank and the Citizens Advice Bureau. We were able to halt all enforcement action while the boater went through the claiming process. The benefits enabled the boater to pay for a new licence, this also allowed them to improve their financial situation so that they could support themselves and no longer had to live off handouts from friends. I’m pleased to report they are now back cruising and enjoying the boating lifestyle they love.
A local authority got in touch with us to let us know that a liveaboard boater claiming housing benefit kept sending their boat license application to them and wanted to know who to send this on to. The boat was showing up as unlicensed with outstanding debts and the application form was incomplete, and the boater was refusing to talk to the Trust. I was able to reach out and arrange a meeting with the boater, who told me they were suffering from depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and found conversations about their licence situation very difficult. The boater had been supported by their local GP in the past and was seeking further help. Once we knew about their situation we were able to put all action on hold while they got the support they needed: this took several months so we made an Equality Act Adjustment which allowed the boater some reasonable adjustments to meet their needs. The boater was also able to put in a claim for benefits which allowed them to set up a payment plan to clear the debt and manage the cost for the new licence. They currently work closely with their local GP and are able to access support groups to help with the medical needs they have.
A marina contacted us to say they were concerned about a person living on their boat in the marina. The boater had asked the marina to contact me on their behalf. I managed to make contact with the boater, who told me their health had deteriorated. They were unable to manage the boat, finding it very difficult to access facilities like cooking, cleaning, clothing and bathing. They were registered disabled and up until now had been able to manage, but now felt that they needed some specialist care. We spoke at length about what they wanted to do and the boater decided they wanted to move into accommodation that would help support them with their general needs. A local chaplain met with the boater and helped them access support from the local authority. The chaplain and I spoke weekly to make sure the support work was co-ordinated and the boater has now been housed into more suitable accommodation. The boater couldn’t see how they could have managed the process without the support and signposting they received from the Trust and the waterways chaplaincy.
These are just a few examples of the many difficult situations that people find themselves in. It’s been brilliant to help so many boaters and we’ve had some great feedback:
“Thank you so much for all the help and assistance you have offered us, we never knew that there was support we could get.”
“You listened, offered advice and gave us time to get help, thank you to everyone that listened.”
“I’ve heard stories about your enforcement team but I can honestly say that they have helped me so much and I really appreciate the adjustments made.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s what we are here for. If you are a boater and feel like you may need help, please get in touch with us – you can find your local contact’s details on this map. If you prefer you can contact customer services on 0303 040 4040.
We welcome any ideas about organisations we should be speaking to or suggestions on how we can work to support boaters. Send your ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find out what the Canal & River Trust's boating team have been up to.See more blogs from this author