narrow boat
2023-24 case summaries

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

 1308  A complaint about how the Trust handled complaints made about customer service facilities (CSF) at one of its moorings.

Mr T, a liveaboard boater, complained about the way the Trust responded to his repeated reports about the poor standard of cleanliness and upkeep of customer facilities at his mooring. He asked several specific questions which were not answered to his satisfaction.

He said there had been a sudden drop in standards and asked why, when he reported this to the Trust, it took no action. The Trust said there was no alteration in the methodology or frequency of the cleaning schedule,but it did change the cleaning contract supplier at that time. It accepted there were some localised issues and said the Trust’s operational property team addressed the challenges with the new supplier under the terms of their contract, working together to improve the service they provided to overcome these teething issues.

Mr T did not agree with this response and provided photos of the facilities to demonstrate the lack of cleaning and noted the dates and times of the contractor’s visits. The Trust accepted the facilities needed some updating which, they argued, made cleaning more difficult. There followed a series of meetings with the contractors and the Trust which eventually resulted in the Trust gaining access to the historical data about the cleaning regime on site. This revealed missed visits and poor record keeping as well as poor cleaning. As a result, there was a change in personal and a more stringent approach to record keeping was employed. The Trust explained how the contract was managed and confirmed it had mechanisms in place to follow up on reports of any issues. 

Overall, I concluded this matter has not been well handled by the Trust and it should have acted sooner to remedy the situation. It appeared to me that rather than investigating what was happening at the site, checking the cleaning schedule was being adhered to, that the cleaners knew what was expected of them, actually managing the cleaning contract, that the Trust dismissed them as teething troubles due to the change of contractor. 

The photographs taken by Mr T showed a CSF which was not fit to be used. They should have alerted the Trust to take action. It was obvious it was not just a poor job being done, but that either nothing was being done by the cleaner or no visits were being made. The Trust cited examples of some work, light bulbs being changed or the door hinges fixed, these are not cleaning issues but maintenance ones. The Trust said it was satisfied the visits were being made, as they were logged as such, and it provided evidence to support this. However, the standard of the cleaning was often not good enough and this should have been picked up sooner. The Trust has provided details of how it monitors the contract and the requirement to log visits and to photograph the facilities as the cleaner leaves. However, these job cards were completed by the cleaner and there was the possibility for discrepancies which the Trust and its contractors should have been alert to and should have tried to eradicate by improving the monitoring process.

During the investigation it became clear that other boaters and staff at the site were complaining about the facilities. The Trust should have linked up the information and dealt with the matter much sooner.

I recommended the Trust take action to prevent a repeat of this complaint, including, confirming they now have access to the Contractor’s record keeping and can use it to effectively monitor the work performed and investigate what changes can be made to eradicate the possibility of inaccurate information being provided; link up its enquiries/complaint reports to recognise when multiple people complain about the same place and that the Trust then conducts its own inspection before engaging with the Contractors on a plan of improvement and actively listen to staff and customers who use their sites and make sure that the basics are done to the required standards and hold the contractors to account for work done.

As to how the complaint was handled I was satisfied the reason for the initial delays were identified and action taken. However, there were short comings in the amount of detail provided in the level one and two complaints which meant more time and effort had to be spent by Mr T in pursuing this. To recognise the time spent and inconvenience caused to Mr T for having to make repeated complaints I required the Trust to make a small goodwill payment to Mr T.

1307 A complaint about a landowner’s interactions with the Trust in relation to her land and access agreement.

Ms S thought her complaint was initially resolved in July 2023, when the Trust set out a number of actions it would take to resolve the dispute. However, there were excessive delays in completing the actions and communication with the Trust remained difficult.

Ms S owns a piece of wet woodland between two reservoirs which has a Trust Valve House on it and she complained about the contractors employed by the Trust who had worked there. Ms S explained there were a number of points she was unhappy with going back a few years and although she said the Trust had apologised, she did not believe they have been held accountable for their actions. She complained the Trust had chopped down bushes, accessed her land via an embankment, left scaffolding behind, not finished the work they started and not returned to put things right. She said they did not keep to their side of the contractual agreement which was drawn up. She said she had tried to make a formal complaint but had been fobbed off. Ms S was unhappy with the customer service she had received from the Trust and felt that her wishes and instructions had been disregarded over the years, with the Trust appearing to do as it wished and saying sorry afterwards.

The Trust accepted it had not managed the situation well and there were delays and missed opportunities to resolve the matters sooner. I upheld the complaint. The Trust had already agreed to pay the complainant’s legal costs in respect of the access agreement. I found this a reasonable recompense to recognise the ongoing delays. In addition to this I required the Trust to make an additional direct payment as a goodwill gesture to recognise the additional time and inconvenience this matter has caused Ms S. I also required the Trust to nominate an individual person or job role to oversee any outstanding actions and be a contact for the complainant, in the first instance until all promised actions are complete and for the future relationship act as a conduit to coordinate any issues.

 1262 A complaint about speeding boats and hire boat operators on the Kennet & Avon.  

Mr R complained about a variety of issues in his locality, particularly speeding boats owned by hire boat companies causing a nuisance and danger to other canal user and moored boats. He did not accept that the Trust had done enough to monitor this and to enforce the speed limit and the recommendation to reduce to a ticking over speed when passing moored boats. He has also raised the matter with the hire boat companies directly but did not consider they took the issue seriously enough.

Speeding boats are a serious issue, it can be dangerous to other boaters and the excessive wash can cause damage to the waterway. The Trust said it takes the issue seriously and will act when it has evidence of an offender. The Trust does not have the resources to police the whole of the navigation and this is why it asks for evidence when members of the public report speeding craft. It asks for the basic details of the boat, the date and time and, if possible, photographic evidence of the wash caused by the boat.

Mr R offered to gather evidence if the Trust provide him with the necessary equipment, for example a speed gun or video camera. The Trust has rejected this idea because of the inherent risk of conflict with other customers. I agreed this was a sensible decision by the Trust as it would be unfair to put Mr R in that position.

The Trust confirmed it works with hire boat operators and their trade body, British Marine, to ensure that they make hirers aware of the rules of the waterways before they start their journeys. The handover procedures are vigorous, and they aim to ensure responsible and considerate behaviour before customers take control of the boat. However, despite all that, an individual who hires a boat may still make a conscious decision not to abide by the etiquette of passing moored boats or stay below the speed limit of the canal – but that is a matter of personal responsibility. Where the operator has evidence of that behaviour, they can take action against the individual/crew of the boat and where the Trust has evidence to support a concerning trend with an operator then the Business Boating Manager can pursue this directly with the operator.

The Trust said they have had very few complaints about speeding hire boats throughout the summer for this particular region. Based on the evidence provided I was satisfied that the Trust has taken action to try and reduce the frequency of speeding boats in the area. It has taken the reports made by Mr R seriously but without evidence to identify the culprits and substantiate the facts I accepted it could not take any further action.

Mr R was also unhappy with the Trust’s response to his complaints about the Hire boat company. He has raised a number of issues about the operation and how it is affecting other boaters. These were addressed in the second level response, but Mr R remained unhappy and said the business continued to cause a nuisance.

To ensure a business is operating legitimately and safely the Trust has specific terms and conditions which must be adhered to and Business Boating Managers throughout the network to ensure compliance. The Trust has confirmed that the local Business Boating manager is aware of the issues raised by Mr R and has raised them with the business. As explained in the second level response the Trust monitored the situation and worked closely with the business to ensure all parties could use the facilities and mooring fairly and safely. This is what I would expect to happen. I do appreciate that there will inevitably be instances where hirers do not act as expected or requested and Mr R will no doubt witness those. However, I was satisfied the Trust was following its policies and procedures properly in dealing with the Business. 

As a resolution to his complaint Mr R wanted the Trust to provide assurances they will take action to properly manage the hire boat companies operating in the area and to ensure they adhere to Health and Safety requirements for their customers and other canal users. I was satisfied the Trust had demonstrated they were already doing that so I saw no reason why they should not confirm they will continue to do so.

1285 a complaint about the standard of provision of customer service facilities

Mr Q has been complaining for a number of years about the standard of maintenance and cleaning at one of the Trust’s London customer service facility and other facilities in the London area. The Trust accepted that the standard had not been what it would have liked but says there is a high level of vandalism, abuse and mis-use which makes it very difficult and costly to provide the standard it would like. At the time of the decision the facility was closed and there was a general review of facilities underway.

Mr Q alleged he suffered indirect discrimination because as he is a disabled person, the poor standard of cleaning and the closures affected him more than able bodied users. I was not persuaded this was the case, but a definitive answer would be a legal decision and a matter for the courts.   

Mr Q complained that his complaint was not dealt with in a timely manner as his boat was unlicensed at the time. I found no evidence to support this.

I appreciated that Mr Q had been inconvenienced by the lack of facilities in his neighbourhood and that this has added to the stress of his disability. However, I found no evidence of maladministration by the Trust in dealing with the facilities or his complaint and therefore I did not uphold his complaint. The Trust has limited resources and the cost in terms of money and time to maintain the facilities, which are heavily used and mis-used, has proved to be prohibitive. Unfortunately, this is likely to result in the permanent closure of some facilities which will be a loss to all waterways users.

As a resolution to his complaint Mr Q wanted the Trust to provide useable and accessible customer service facilities. He appreciated the facilities may be closed permanently but while they were open, he argued they should be useable. At the time of the decision the facilities were closed as they need costly repairs and are the subject of an Executive decision about whether they reopen. Clearly, if they do re-open the Trust should endeavour to ensure they are useable and that the maintenance and cleaning contract is adhered to when possible.    

1298 a complaint about the status of a Home Mooring.

Ms M purchased her boat in situ and was told by the seller she could continue to moor at the location free of charge, as he had since 2009. Ms M accepted this information in good faith and applied for and was granted her boat licence declaring herself as having a Home Mooring. 

Nearly two years later Ms M received a request for payment for the mooring from someone who claimed to be the owner of the mooring. As she was unsure if this was a legitimate request Ms M sought advice from the Trust about whether to make payment to a private bank account with no agreed contract. She was advised against this.

The Trust later confirmed the previous owner had been a business tenant of the Trust’s. As part of the lease agreement, he had exclusivity of the mooring that the boat had occupied for many years. The Trust says the situation came to its attention when the lease for the Dock transferred to the new tenant, who wished to have access to the mooring as it forms part of the agreement with the Trust. He complained to the Trust that he did not have full use of the facilities he was paying for because Ms M’s boat was moored there. The Trust checked its records and as it was already aware the boat did not have the mooring operator’s permission to remain there it contacted Ms M, through its Mooring Awaiting Confirmation process, and asked her to provide evidence of a valid home mooring or to continuously cruise. Ms M was unhappy with this and made her complaint.

The Trust’s definition of a Home Mooring is, ‘a mooring or other place that will be available for the Boat throughout the period of the Licence. We must be satisfied that the Boat can be reasonably and lawfully kept there when not being used for cruising.’ The Trust explained it owns the canal bed and its permission is required for the exclusive right to occupy the water space. As the Dock, which was being used as the Home Mooring forms part of the Business tenancy agreement it is for the Business to agree to allow Ms M to use the mooring, as they had for two years, at no charge. In May 2022, the business operator requested that she remove her boat from the mooring. As Ms M cannot provide evidence that she has an agreement with the business operator to remain moored at the Dock she has been asked to move away. The Trust has refused to accept her licence application as a home mooring.

I was satisfied that Ms M had no valid agreement with the mooring operator to moor at the location. It followed she cannot declare the location as a Home Mooring on her boat licence and therefore must be classified as a continuous cruiser.

Ms M says the Trust did not take into account that her boat was too big to continuously cruise and the engine was not in working order. She asked if the Trust could have tried to understand her situation and advise on realistic solutions. I concluded it is the responsibility of the boat owner to maintain their boat and to ensure it has a valid licence and the responsibility of the Trust to enforce the regulations.

Ms M also complained that the Trust had provided information to the business operator about her licence status. This was based on information in a letter she had received from him which alluded to information provided by the Trust. Ms M says she has contacted the Information Commissioners Office in relation to this and as they are best placed to respond to this, I made no comment. 

The Trust has provided links to its General Terms and conditions for Boat licences and has quoted the relevant legislation in response to the complaint and for the purposes of this investigation. I was satisfied the Trust had acted in line with its policies.

Although I had some sympathy for Ms M, as she acted in good faith based on the information provided to her when she purchased the boat, it transpired that information was incorrect. It seems that the seller of the boat was not completely transparent with her and Ms M did not seek any clarification on the mooring status from the Trust. Had she done so she would have been advised the mooring forms part of a tenancy for the dry dock and it would be a decision for the tenants whether to allow her to use the mooring on a permanent basis. The Trust does have warnings on its website advising that mooring agreements are personal to the individual boat owner and that they are rarely assignable from one boat owner to another. They advise ‘If someone offers you a boat with a mooring, be very sceptical and demand legal evidence they have the right to pass on the  mooring agreement when selling the boat.’

I was satisfied the disputed home mooring was genuinely invalid. Ms M requested that any realistic alternatives to the change of licence be discussed and the termination of her licence be reversed. There are only two alternatives with the long term licence, a valid home mooring or continuously cruising. The Trust confirmed that termination of her licence would only be reversed if she could demonstrate adherence to either option. 


1295 - a complaint about a nuisance overstaying boater.

Mr N lives adjacent to a canal and complained about a boat dweller moored opposite his flat. He explained the boat was unlicensed and had no engine, so a diesel generator was running from morning to night which had a detrimental impact on his mental health and well-being. He complained to the Trust which he felt had not managed the situation well, he believed that, as the area is a 14-day mooring only, the boat should have moved on once it had overstayed that time. The Trust has accepted there have been delays in responding to the issues raised but says that it was hampered by the need to follow due process when potentially making someone homeless. As the boat is unlicensed it cannot pursue the occupant by enforcing its licence conditions and instead, as the boat is being used as a home has to take a legal route to remove the boat.

The investigation focused on whether the Trust has followed the procedures for dealing with Liveaboard boaters.

The boat at the centre of the complaint was ‘unidentified’, which means that it had no boat index number or name. The Trust therefore has no record of it, its sale, or details of the current owner/lawful keeper. As the boat is unlicensed there is no existing agreement with the boater about how they will behave so there are no conditions of the licence to abide by.

The Trust is bound by its processes and procedures because the outcome of its action could result in making someone homeless. It has to follow a legal route to remove the individual from the waterways. This takes time, effort and constant monitoring and interaction. When there are complaints about anti social behaviour and noise and smoke pollution it also involves other agencies.

The Trust did not have the necessary resources in place to deal with the situation in a timely manner and begin the Liveaboard process. This extended the time that Mr N was inconvenienced by the boater. The Trust did not recognise a complaint had been made and begin the complaints process in a timely manner, for which the Trust had already apologised. Mr N felt complaint responses lacked detail and were not clear on what, if any action was being taken, as the Trust was concerned to protect the identity of the boater. The Local Authority and the Police were able to provide more detail, which added to the frustration of Mr N.

It was apparent there was a lack of knowledge between agencies of the possible actions that each could take and an expectation that the Trust could do more than it was able to. As the complaint progressed a working relationship was established between the LA and the Trust which should lead to future improvements.

I concluded that the Trust did not have the necessary resources in place to deal with the situation in a timely manner and begin the Liveaboard process. This extended the time that Mr N was inconvenienced by the boater.

I recommended that the Trust should reinforce the message that a complaint is any expression of dissatisfaction and although the advisors may be aware there is no further action that can be taken at the time, that does not negate the complaint element of a contact. That the Trust may wish to consider producing a Fact sheet which sets out what it can and cannot do in these circumstances and what the roles of other agencies are, and that the Trust’s legal team should reconsider what information it can share with third parties and if necessary, ensure staff and advisors are made aware of any changes to protocol. I also required a small goodwill gesture to recognise the stress and inconvenience caused by the delays in starting the Liveaboard and the complaints process.

1292 a complaint about bridge closures and the effect on a business

Mr P complained about the Trust’s management of canal bridge closures, the lack of signage about the diversion and businesses remaining open and that his business was severely affected by the bridge closure. He also explained the bridge closures caused him and his family stress and inconvenience as he cares for his 86 year old mother who has dementia and she lives on the other side of the canal to him. The bridge closures meant he was unable to use the quickest route to get to her and check on her welfare and added time to the journey in the event of an emergency or urgent need.

Mr P says the problem was compounded when the bridge had been shut for 9 weeks, meaning he had to travel to a second bridge to get to his mum, the second bridge was then shut for repairs and he was having to travel to a third bridge, extending the trip to 10 miles. He was then advised the third bridge was due to shut for 24 hours. Mr P also found his interactions with the Trust difficult and frustrating as he felt the Trust did not fully appreciate the effect the situation was having on him and his family.

The Trust said there was one day during this period when all three bridges were closed. It acknowledged the disruption and apologised. It added at no time was there not an alternative means of access, albeit of a slightly protracted nature to the existing options. The Trust says the closure of the third bridge was caused by issues outside of its control and was unforeseen. 

The crux of this complaint was whether the Trust had acted reasonably in closing bridge two and three, when the first bridge remained closed. Had it adequately considered the impact on individuals and businesses which would be affected by the closures. The Trust was able to demonstrate it had followed all the necessary process and procedures around road closures with the local council. Had everything gone to plan the bridges would not have been shut at the same time. However, in my view, the Trust and its contractors could have done more at the initial stages to identify and engage with local residents and businesses who could be directly impacted by the bridge closures. Early engagement with Mr P could have identified if the signage was present and may have resulted in better signage, especially about local businesses being open, and he could have been better prepared to update his customers on the diversion and let them know the business remained open.

Mr P wished to claim business losses as he said the bridge closure had a severe effect on his ability to trade, as customers did not know how to get to his shop.  Mr P would need to demonstrate the lost business was a direct result of the Trust or its contractor’s negligence. This is a matter for the Trust’s Loss Adjustors and Mr P was advised to make a claim.  

Mr P wanted compensation for the stress and inconvenience caused to him and his family. I concluded that had the Trust spoken to Mr P before the bridge work started, he would have been better prepared for dealing with his mother and may have put alternative arrangements in place. I appreciated that the frustration at the lack of early communication and then, what he viewed as lack of engagement, as the bridges remained closed was a source of stress and inconvenience for Mr P and his family. On the basis of this and increased costs as his distance to reach his mother increased during the extended period of the closure of bridge 1 and 2, I awarded a small goodwill gesture.