Why have you run a consultation on future boat licence pricing?
Our canals are facing some daunting challenges and, if we don’t act now, the future could look bleak. The government recently announced significant cuts to public funding for the canals over the years ahead, whilst high inflation rates and the ageing infrastructure has seen the cost of caring for canals rise. To help meet the costs of caring for our canals, rivers, and reservoirs, we need to secure more funds from all sources, including boat licence fees.
The boat licence fee represents around 11% of income, going towards vital maintenance and repairs. The cost of the licence has largely kept pace with inflation since the Trust was formed. Now the above factors will mean that boat licences will need to rise above the baseline inflation rate for each of the next five years to continue to help fund the additional ongoing investment that the network needs.
Whilst the scale of the investment required cannot and should not be borne by boaters alone, the increases from boat licences will make an important contribution. The consultation asked boaters how we could apply these necessary rises equitably.
How else are you looking to generate more money?
We raise money from a number of sources, including boat licences and moorings, government funding, investments, donations, and other income streams. We’re re-doubling our efforts to grow volunteering further and to increase funds raised across all our activities, from all our users and supporters, so we can deliver the additional ongoing investment that the network needs.
Alongside the changes to boat licensing, the Trust continues to grow income from its property and non-property endowment, and from other commercial sources such as hosting utilities and water transfer, which together contribute over 40% of the Trust’s income. The Trust is targeting a step-change in income generation from towpath users and other supporters, with fundraising income projected to grow by 10% each year – whilst other commercial waterways income, including from anglers, paddle sports and moorings, is also set to increase.
What have you decided that future boat licence pricing will be?
Boat licence fees will need to rise above the baseline inflation rate for each of the next five years. In addition, we are introducing a surcharge for boats that continuously cruise and increasing in the surcharges for wide beam boats to reflect the greater utility they receive.
The above-inflation increases for all boat licence holders, and the new surcharges, will take effect from 1 April 2024. Details will be announced in November using the latest inflation forecasts.
Boat use has changed over the years, with rising numbers of people choosing to continuously cruise, and to choose wider boats. Most boaters without home moorings spend more time on the waterway network, and make more use of facilities, than those with a home mooring. Wider boats take up more space on the water than their narrow beam counterparts. We believe that reflecting the utility people get from their use of the waterways network, and the cost of supporting different boat use, is the fairest way to decide licence pricing - as reflected in the responses from the recent boater consultation.
We also considered whether the various licence discounts currently offered are sustainable. From 1 April 2024, there will be a reduction in the discounts for prompt payment and for paying online as this has become the standard method used by the vast majority of boaters. The electric boat, historic boat and charity boat discounts will be retained.
Why are you applying a higher price to boats that continuously cruise?
Over the past ten years we have seen the number of people choosing to boat without a home mooring increase. There is no doubt that the growing numbers of continuous cruisers has helped enliven many waterways, but this growth has also led to increased costs to manage and meet their needs.
Boats without a home mooring are expected, as per legislation, to move every 14 days to meet their licence terms. A higher licence fee reflects the cost to the Trust of their reliance on facilities such as waste and water, the additional benefit they gain from the time they spend on the waterway network, and the greater impact this has on the ageing infrastructure.
Why are you increasing the wide beam surcharge?
The current wide beam surcharge was introduced following the 2017/18 licence review to reflect the added amenity value that they gain from the additional space they occupy on the water. This is similar to other navigation authorities, for example the Environment Agency, which charge on a length x beam basis. The two existing wide beam bands have held a 10% or 20% surcharge since April 2023. The decision to increase these surcharges better reflects the added utility they receive from the waterways.
Why are you changing the current full payment and/or online payment discount?
The discount for online payment was introduced to encourage boaters to move to self-serve online boat licensing. With the vast majority of boaters now buying and/or renewing their boat licence online, which is also more convenient and easier for boaters, we do not believe that the online payment discount incentive is justified at the current level.
For those who pay their boat licence in full, this helps the Trust by giving us access to this funding immediately to allow us to fund maintaining the waterways. We believe that it is reasonable to maintain a higher discount to incentivise payment in full.
Are you making changes to any other discounts?
From 1 April 2029 there will be a reduction to the disconnected waterway discount. The electric boat, historic boat and charity boat discounts will be retained.
I can’t afford to pay more – what can I do?
We know that some boaters are on limited or fixed incomes and may find the increases in boat licence prices particularly difficult. If you, or a boater you know, is in this situation, please do get in touch. If you live aboard your boat and are struggling financially, you may be eligible for housing benefit. Our licence support team and boater welfare officers, along with the independent Waterway Chaplains, can help you find additional support.
When did the consultation run until?
The consultation was sent out to all boat licence holders by 7 February and ran until 6 April 2023.
How could people take part in the consultation?
We contacted boat licence holders directly either by email, text message or post (depending on what contact information we held).
Who ran the consultation?
We engaged an independent firm called DJS Research to run the consultation. They sent out the questionnaire, collated the responses and prepared a report on the consultation findings.
Will you publish the results of the consultation?
Yes, we have published the results on our website: National consultations.
Did the consultation include business boat licences?
Yes, boaters with a business licence (including roving traders) were invited to take part in the consultation. Other than the overall increase to the licence price and changes to discounts and surcharges there were no other proposals specifically affecting business boats. The price of business boat licences is already generally much higher than leisure licences to reflect the commercial nature of these craft.
Why should the licence fee increase when the state of the waterways is deteriorating?
Our canals are facing some daunting challenges and, if we don’t act now, the future could look bleak. The government recently announced significant cuts to public funding for the canals over the years ahead, whilst high inflation rates and the ageing infrastructure has seen the cost of caring for canals rise. We have warned that this will further threaten the future of the nation’s historic canals.
Keeping the canals open for navigation is one of our operational priorities. We are looking at all aspects of how we can save money so we can focus on work to protect the core network infrastructure, along with raising more income through growing fundraising and commercial activities.
We know how frustrating it is to be faced with problems when you’re out cruising. Please tell us when something’s wrong – we will do our best to fix it, especially if it is impeding navigation or causing a safety issue. But please bear with us and understand that we are having to prioritise where we spend our limited resources.
How will any additional fees be applied?
Any additional fees for boats without a home mooring (continuous cruisers) and wide beam boats will be added together and applied to the standard licence fee, before any discounts are applied.
How will any discounts be applied?
After additional fees have been applied, any additional discounts will be deducted one by one, starting with the prompt payment and online (self-serve) discount, then other discounts applied with the largest discount first.
How can I calculate what the changes will mean for the cost of their boat licence?
An online calculator has been created to work out the licence cost (before any discounts are applied).
If I’m a continuous cruiser (CC) and I take a mooring, will I be entitled to a refund on the CC additional fee and how will that be calculated?
Yes, but we are still finalising the details and the process. This will be confirmed before the changes take effect in April. Any refund would be subject to us receiving satisfactory proof of the mooring being obtained.
What proof will you accept to confirm a mooring?
Proof of a mooring of six months or more could be confirmed with a written mooring agreement, signed and dated (showing the start and end date for the mooring agreement). We may also require proof of payment.
If I have a mooring and wish to become a continuous cruiser, will I have to pay the CC additional fee?
Yes, once you notify us that you have given up your mooring and become a continuous cruiser, we will calculate pro-rata the CC additional fee you will need to pay.
If I’m a continuous cruiser and I take a short-term mooring or a temporary winter mooring, will I be entitled to a refund on the CC additional fee for the period?
We will only refund the CC surcharge where you take a mooring for your boat of six months or more, which also goes to the end of your licence period.
Short-term moorings or temporary winter moorings of fewer than six months will not be eligible for a refund on the CC additional fee.
Will the Gold Licence be increasing in 2024?
Yes. The Gold Licence increases are applied from January each year based on the increases that the Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency have applied to other licences in the previous April.
From January 2024 the Gold Licence will be increasing by 10%.
Will the CC additional fee be applied to Gold Licences?
Yes. The CC additional fee will be applied to boats without a home mooring on the Trust’s waters that have a Gold Licence from January 2025.
The Gold Licence already factors in an additional fee for wider boats so the additional wide beam additional fee is not applied to the Gold Licence. If a Gold Licence in purchased for the first time partway through the year, the CC additional fee will be applied pro-rata.
How will you monitor throughout the year to ensure that people have declared a mooring still have that mooring and have not simply declared it to avoid paying the CC additional fee?
The Trust already has an existing process for verifying moorings, this includes boat checks at mooring sites and monitoring boat movements to spot unusual movement patterns – for example, boats sighted continuously on our canals and rivers without ever appearing to be on their mooring. If we believe a mooring has been falsely declared, unless we received satisfactory proof of a mooring, a boat will be recorded as being a continuous cruiser.
What will you do about unlicensed boats?
Boats that are unlicensed will be dealt with through our enforcement processes. Ultimately, we can, and do, remove unlicensed boats from our waterways.
If I need a wider boat to help me manage a disability (for example requiring a wheelchair or walking aid) I am exempt from the wide beam additional fee, would I be eligible for a discount if I had a longer narrow boat to help me manage a disability?
The standard licence fee is calculated on the length of a narrowboat, but this is not an additional fee, so no length discount is applied for boaters with a disability. If you have a disability, you can request an equality adjustment to help you continue to live aboard, please complete and return the equality questionnaire to us and we will get in touch.
How will the additional fees affect houseboat licences?
The increases to the wide beam additional fees will apply to houseboat licences where appropriate.
Will the CC additional fee apply to those who own a butty boat in addition to my powered boat?
Yes, the additional fee for boats without a home mooring would apply to both the licence for the powered craft and the licence for the butty. Butty boats that meet the discount criteria would still be able to have this applied.
Will the additional fees apply to Roving Trader licence?
Yes, the additional fees for boats without a home mooring and wide beams would apply to Roving Trader licences where boats meet the relevant criteria.
Do the additional fees apply to business boats?
Yes, with the exception of skippered passenger, trade plates, safety and work boats.
I own an historic boat; will any additional fees apply and is the discount changing?
The Trust does recognise the significance of keeping historic boats on the waterways and there are currently no changes planned to the discount that can be applied. However, where historic boats meet the criteria for the additional fees they will be applied to the licence.