The idiocracy that is BW licensing

Published: Saturday, 02 May 2009

HOT on the heels of the complaint of the workings of British Waterways' licensing department by Ray Watkins (emails) threatened by its attitude,  comes another.

Marian Douglas, from Braunston, was hounded by BW for not showing her boat's licence—even though it was still in the builders' yard! Here is her story:

I have just read Ray Watkins' email about the threatening letter from BW regarding his boat licence renewal and can sympathise with him as I too have received a threatening letter from BW regarding the licensing of my boat but in this letter they threatened to seize and scrap my boat if I did not comply within 14 days.

In my case, my crime was to have a boat which was not displaying a licence. The fact that it was a bright new shiny boat that I had only had for a few days and was still in the builder's yard did not register with them. In the same post in which the threatening letter arrived, I also received another letter from BW, this time from their licensing section, returning my application for a licence as my cheque was 'incomplete'.

In fact, my cheque was not incomplete but rather incorrect in that I had sent too much! I had made the mistake of looking at their useless website and not noticing that their table of charges was three months out of date in that it still had the licence fee set with the old VAT rate. Instead of taking the sensible course of sending me my licence with a cheque for the overpayment they just returned the whole application. In all, it took them some seven weeks to issue me with a licence.

I wrote a letter to the enforcement office complaining about their letter and pointing out that the boat was brand new and still in the builder's yard and that they could easily have checked this both with their licensing section and with the builder but they chose to do neither.

I received a telephone call from the enforcement officer apologising for their letter (jaw dropped to the ground) but explaining that they do not do any checks as '99% of all offenders do not have and have not applied for a licence'. He confirmed that they do not have the time to make such checks before issuing the letters and that they take the chance on upsetting someone like me as there are not many of us! So now you know, it's official: BW do not care if they upset the honest boater!

Incidentally, I also asked him if I would appear on his end of year figures as a boater successfully pursued until they paid up. He claimed not, but I wonder...