narrow boat
2020-21 case summaries

This page includes summaries of completed investigations and will be updated as cases are complete

Case no 1085 – complaint about the consequences of an aborted trip caused by the narrowing of a Lock.

Mr K complains that due to the narrowing of a Lock he is unable to navigate his Houseboat to a boatyard for its 10-year survey. Consequently, his barge cannot be surveyed and therefore he cannot get full insurance and peace of mind that the barge is structurally sound. Mr K attempted the trip in 2016 and since then has been trying to get a resolution or workable solution from the Trust.

Mr K says the barge had been a working vessel and had travelled the route for over 80 years. He wants the Trust to take some action to enable safe passage through the lock. Although the Trust has offered to help, he does not consider the options given offer real solutions and says he feels he has not been treated fairly. He pays a yearly fee to use the waterways and to moor his boat and he does not feel he is getting value for money.

As a resolution Mr K would like the Trust to complete work on the Lock to restore it to its original width to enable his barge to pass through. He estimates this to be about an inch and a half. He also wants to be compensated for the time taken to resolve the issue as he feels the Trust has allowed him to spend four years waiting for action when none was taken.

The Trust accepts there has been a narrowing of the lock width but considers the lock to be stable, the bowing of the lock is not listed as an active defect and so it is not scheduled for repair of any sort. The Trust believe they have proposed different viable solutions to Mr K which would assist him to transport the barge and complete the survey.  He has rejected all of them and the Trust says the only solutions that seem to be acceptable to Mr K are those where the Trust carries the sole financial cost and responsibility (i.e. widening of the Lock to enable his passage). 

The Trust does not accept that it has a statutory duty to enable the barge to travel through the network. The Trust quote section 105 of the Transport Act 1968 (appendix 1) and The Fraenkel Report 1975, to substantiate this. The relevant point is that that the Trust has a duty to maintain the cruising waterways in a suitable condition for the type of cruising craft that used the waterways in the nine months prior to December 1967. The Transport Act sets out the obligations on the Trust and defines the particular canal as a cruising waterway. Mr K’s barge is wider than the required size and so the ombudsman accepted there was no statutory duty to widen the lock. 

The investigation found that the Trust was aware of the narrowing of the Lock prior to the aborted journey and had noted its website of the restricted size. Had the website been checked before the journey the trip could have been avoided. On that basis the ombudsman did not consider it was fair and reasonable to compensate Mr K for the cost of the aborted trip or any other costs claimed. 

In regard to the way the complaint was handled, the ombudsman found the advice from the Trust had initially been that it would investigate and measure the lock. Once it had done this it advised Mr K it would not be completing any work on the lock and it accepted no responsibility for the costs involved in him transporting his barge. 

The Ombudsman did not uphold Mr K’s complaint. The Trust is under no statutory obligation to provide passage of his barge through the particular lock.  The dimensions of the barge are over the statutory capacity of the lock. The ombudsman accepted the Trust’s view that the cost of completing the work required to facilitate the passage was prohibitive, since this was the only vessel which had reported a problem and the Trust had to take an economic view of where best to spend its money for all users. The ombudsman concluded that the Trust had acted in a way that is fair and reasonable to all its users.