In a landmark judgement issued on 25th June 2020 (AB v London Borough of Camden (HB)  UKUT 158 (AAC)), the Upper Tribunal has confirmed that Housing Benefit is payable for boat licence fees because the boat licence fee if living aboard is rent. Specifically, the boat licence fee is a payment in respect of a licence or permission to occupy a dwelling and thus it qualifies under Regulation 12(1)(b) of the Housing Benefit Regulations. Regulation 12(1)(b) is directly transposed to the Universal Credit Regulations so this judgement also applies to claims for the boat licence fee as housing costs in Universal Credit.
Upper Tribunal Judge Mr E Mitchell found that the boat licence without a permanent mooring qualifies under this regulation because the boat dweller without a permanent mooring is required to make a payment in respect of a licence to occupy the land, including land covered with water, that while moored, comprises part of his houseboat dwelling. Although the decision was made in respect of a boat licensed without a home mooring, it also covers boat licences with a home mooring (Housing Benefit for mooring fees is already within the scope of the regulations in Regulation 12(1)(f) which is also transposed to the Universal Credit regulations).
In paragraph 69 of the judgement, Judge Mitchell said:
“…a ‘dwelling’ is comprised of more than simply the houseboat. It includes the land used for the purposes of mooring it. When a houseboat is moored, the dwelling is comprised for housing benefit purposes of the houseboat itself, the canal or river bank used for mooring and, probably, also the land beneath the vessel (given the Interpretation Act 1978 definition of land, which includes land covered by water). If someone other than the person dwelling in the houseboat owns the land comprised within the houseboat dwelling, the owner in principle is free to licence its use, for mooring purposes, to that person.”
He continued in paragraphs 82 and 83:
“I therefore conclude that payments made by Mr B to the Canal & River Trust were
payments in respect of a licence to occupy that part of his houseboat dwelling comprised of land owned or managed by the Trust. It is not disputed that the payments are periodical in nature nor that they are made in respect of a dwelling occupied by Mr B as his home. The payments therefore fall within regulation 12(1)(b) of the 2006 Regulations and constitute ‘rent’ for the purposes of that regulation.
It follows that the local authority, acting on 1 December 2016, did not establish a proper statutory ground for superseding Mr B’s award of housing benefit. The authority’s decision is set aside. For entitlement purposes, the result is that the authority’s actions on 1 December 2016 had no effect on Mr B’s existing housing benefit award. That is the effect of the decision given before the start of the reasons for this decision.”
Unfortunately the judge also decided that the costs of compulsory third party insurance and Boat Safety Scheme examination did not qualify for Housing Benefit under Regulation 12(1)(b) on the grounds that these payments “…were made in respect of services necessary in order for the conditions for grant of a licence to be satisfied” and were not payments in respect of the boat licence itself.
The Judge made it clear that he was not drawing a distinction between a boat licence without a home mooring, a boat licence with a home mooring or a houseboat certificate: the decision covers all three. He also used the word ‘houseboat’ in the everyday sense to mean a boat that is used as a home.
This welcome decision follows a difficult period for boat dwellers due to an adverse judgement in the Upper Tribunal in 2017 (Kirklees MBC v JM  UKUT 219 (AAC)) which was undefended by the boater, and which had reversed a Social Security and Child Support Commissioners’ decision of 2002 (CH 884 2002) that boat licence fees, regardless of whether the boater had a mooring, were eligible for Housing Benefit. From 2017, many boat dwellers both with and without a home mooring saw the Housing Benefit for their boat licence either withdrawn on review or refused with a new claim.
If you have been refused Housing Benefit for the boat licence fee or if your Housing Benefit was stopped, you can now either make a new claim or seek permission to appeal out of time. The same applies to those who claimed Universal Credit for the boat licence fee and were refused.
If your Housing Benefit was refused or stopped and you did not appeal, you may be able to get permission to appeal out of time. If you did appeal, your appeal should have been stayed pending the outcome of this case and you should now contact the Tribunal with the judgement. If you appealed and your appeal was not stayed but was decided against you, then you should contact the Tribunal for permission to appeal out of time.
The boater was represented by barrister Justin Bates, instructed by the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA).
The full judgement is available here