Maggie* won't have had much of a Christmas. She has been living rough since she was brutally evicted and her boat and all her possessions seized by the Canal & River Trust in late November 2013. Her home was towed away by a team of 20 bailiffs, Canal & River Trust officials and police. She was left standing on the towpath with only the clothes she stood up in. Maggie suffers from schizophrenia. She hasn't been seen for weeks; friends, family and even the Police are concerned for her safety. They fear that the frightening nature of the eviction has affected her already fragile mental state.
A friend who witnessed and videoed the eviction said "Maggie's illness contributed to the situation that led to the eviction. But what an appalling and distastefully unnecessary dispossession of a schizophrenic's home. Canal & River Trust should have helped this vulnerable woman to resolve the situation. They should not have waded in with this draconian show of force. Their behaviour is a disgrace". He continued: "Maggie needed support and as a charity, they should have acted with compassion, not sent in the troops to remove an eight-stone sick lady from her home. This is just one of many examples of Canal & River Trust's bullying of live-aboard boaters. Canal & River Trust is a charityless organisation. If Maggie has come to any harm I will personally hold Canal & River Trust responsible".
Derek's* Christmas was almost as cheerless. A pensioner, he has lived on boats for more than 30 years. He became seriously ill several years ago. He needed regular medical treatment and had to stay near the hospital and doctor. Without a permanent mooring, the law states that under normal circumstances he should travel to a different place every 14 days. But in exceptional circumstances such as illness, he is entitled to stay for whatever longer period is reasonable. This did not stop Canal & River Trust pressuring him to take a mooring and then taking court action to evict him and seize his boat. He stands to lose his home in early 2014.
Harry* is terminally ill. He needed to moor his boat near the hospital for extended periods while receiving treatment. Threats by Canal & River Trust to seize his home unless he took a mooring have forced him to pay for a mooring that is a long distance from the hospital, even though he has the right to stay longer than 14 days in one place if it is reasonable to do so. Canal & River Trust won't drop their enforcement action against him because they claim his past record of boat movement is poor. The reason he couldn't travel much was because of his terminal illness, but Canal & River Trust don't seem to care. They are legally a charity, but their actions are uncharitable. Harry deserves better in the remaining months of his life.
There are many more disabled, elderly and vulnerable boat dwellers like Maggie, Derek and Harry who are being threatened with eviction and seizure of their homes by Canal & River Trust. These boat dwellers have rights under the Equality Act to be protected from losing their homes; rights that Canal & River Trust refuses to recognise, in breach of the law.
A report by Bath and North East Somerset Council condemned Canal & River Trust's failure to meet its equality obligations. The report, published in July 2013, stated that the Council "met with senior executives of the Canal & River Trust and were disturbed both by their lack of awareness of equalities issues, and by their use of draconian powers to enforce the conditions of the licences they issue..."
*Names have been changed to protect these vulnerable people.