The Environment Agency has said that it will increase the cost of boat registrations on its waterways from 2019 to help ensure a sustainable service for thousands of boat users as well as maintenance of waterway structures such as locks and customer services.

The new charges for 2019-21 will be invested in waterways enjoyed by around 29,000 boat users, helping to meet the shortfall between the cost of running the service and the income currently generated from annual boat registrations.

New income streams sought

Across the EA’s waterways, the majority of boats (98%) are used for private pleasure. For these users, annual boat registrations will increase by between £6 and £100 over two years depending on the size and type of boat, although specific costs vary by location. See a full breakdown of the increases here.

The EA is the second largest navigation authority in the UK and is responsible for more than 1,000 km of navigable waterways, which include the non-tidal River Thames, River Great Ouse, River Nene and Upper Medway Navigation. It is estimated the charge increases will bring in an additional £930,000 by 2021.

Mark Ormrod, National Manager for Navigation at the Environment Agency, said: “Our navigation service plays an important role in protecting our waterways and supports both recreation and business for thousands of people.

“We realise an increase in charges is never welcome news but it is essential to keep the levels of service and maintenance which boaters tell us is needed. In addition, we are exploring new income streams to make our service even better and to spread the cost among everybody who benefits from our waterways.”

Consultation response

The Environment Agency carried out a consultation on the new charges across July-August 2018. A summary of the consultation responses can be found here. In its response to the consultation, the RYA made it clear that it considered the proposal to increase the charges by the amounts specified in the consultation document was unreasonable and unfair.

However in the light of a funding shortfall, the RYA also recognised that the EA was working within a fixed timescale to implement the 2019 registration fees and that timescale would not allow sufficient time to properly research and determine a justifiable and fair annual increase.

The RYA has therefore accepted the proposed increases as a short term expedient whilst a fundamental review is conducted, provided there is proper consultation and meaningful engagement with all stakeholders throughout the review.

Canal and River Trust freezes fees for 2019

In contrast, the Canal and River Trust confirmed that headline private and business boat licence fees will be frozen for 2019 and will remain at current prices until 1 April 2020.

As previously announced, following the Trust’s national boat licence consultation, which concluded in March, several changes will be taking place over five years starting from 1 April 2019. 

The prompt payment discount will be retained but reduced to 5% from 1 April 2019. This is the only change made to licence fees for 2019.

From 2020, part of this discount (2.5%) will apply for those who manage their payments online (for example by credit/debit card or by direct debit). This means that boaters who may not be able to afford to pay the licence fee in one lump sum will also be able to benefit from a discount.

In addition to length-based pricing, from April 2020 two additional pricing bands for boat widths over 2.16 to 3.24m (7ft 1” to 10ft 7¾”) and those over 3.24m width (10ft 7¾”) will be introduced.

Jon Horsfall, head of customer service support at the Canal & River Trust, said: “Income from boat licences accounted for around 10% of our annual income last year, and helps ensure that we can carry out the vast amount of work needed to keep the waterways available to boaters.

“The changes we’re making to boat licensing are intended to ensure the financial contribution made by boaters towards the cost of looking after the waterways is spread fairly across the boating community. We’re staggering the changes we announced in March over a five-year period so there’s no sudden impact on any boaters, and we’re keeping headline licence fees frozen for the next year which will help offset the reduction in the prompt payment discount from 10% to 5% for those who pay their full licence fee upfront.”

The RYA welcomes fees being frozen for 2019 but recognises the need to make modest changes going forward. The future pricing changes are, phased over a reasonable timescale and reflect the changing patterns of use across the Canal and River Trust's network.

The Canal & River Trust works with volunteers and communities across England and Wales to transform canals and rivers into spaces where local people want to spend time and feel better - find out how at https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/about-us.