We've created a new welfare officer post to help support boaters in need.
The role, which is currently being advertised, will cover developing policy about boater welfare and establishing a network of external organisations that can provide local support, as well as acting as a point of contact for staff who are concerned about the wellbeing of particular boaters. The post forms part of our strategy to support vulnerable boaters.
We estimate that around 7,000 boats on our waters are currently used as homes. A small proportion of their owners suffer from physical or mental health problems, alcohol or drug addiction, or other difficulties, which make them more likely to come to the attention of enforcement officers for breaches of licensing rules. These cases are often complex and benefit from support from relevant organisations such as councils, social services and other agencies.
We have acknowledged the need to expand the capability of our own front line staff to handle the growing needs of an aging boating population, as well as other vulnerable boaters, and the new welfare officer role addresses this.
Operating on a confidential basis the welfare officer will help vulnerable boaters find the right solutions for their issues and particular set of circumstances. This will be done in partnership with a network of external organisations to provide welfare assistance and advice to boat dwellers who need such intervention and support.
They will also offer expert advice for staff, volunteers, and stakeholders on matters involving vulnerable boaters, and in particular with enforcement cases where the boat owner is discovered to have welfare needs. The role will also help establish our policies on vulnerable boaters and assist in our compliance with relevant legislation, for example the Equality Act.
Alongside this, in June we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Workplace Matters, the organisation which supports the Waterways Chaplaincy service. We will be providing a grant of £16,000 to Workplace Matters to help maintain the waterways chaplaincy, a service which helps boaters who may be struggling, and have also pledged expert assistance with fundraising for the longer term. Workplace Matters has also been able to secure some funding from its own sources.
Dean Davies, interim head of customer service at Canal & River Trust, said: “Many people see boats as a way to lead a simple, cost-effective way of life. While most boaters take to living aboard like ducks to water and feel the benefits of joining a very supportive community, some people run into trouble.
"We need to do more to make sure that vulnerable people don’t fall through the gaps. In creating the new role of welfare officer we are taking a big step forward in developing a robust welfare policy, and ensuring we are doing all we can to support those boaters who are struggling. It’s something we’re taking very seriously and we have to get it right.”
The Welfare Officer role is being advertised on our website and on TPP Not for Profit, CharityJob, Rightsnet.org.uk and Jobsinadvice.org.uk.