The Canal and River Trust is the navigational authority for canals in England and Wales. In general terms, a person who wishes to moor a houseboat must have a houseboat licence from the Trust (British Waterways Act 1971, s.13). Where a person does not have such a licence, the Trust has power to remove the boat from the canal: see generally, Jones v Canal & River Trust  EWCA Civ 135;  HLR 25.
The Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, makes general provision for the scheme of housing benefit to be administered by local housing authorities. Detailed provision for the assessment and payment of housing benefit is made by the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 (S.I. 2006/213). Housing benefit is payable in respect of a rental liability at a dwelling (reg.12). For these purposes, “rent” is given an extended meaning and includes “payments in respect of a licence or permission to occupy the dwelling” (reg.12(1)(b)). A Social Security Commissioner had previously held that sums payments for a licence to have a boat on the canal was not “rent” for these purposes: CH/844/2002. Similarly, “dwelling” is given an extended meaning and includes any land on used to moor a boat (reg.2).
AB lived on a houseboat which floated around the canals of north London. He applied to the Canal and River Trust for a houseboat licence. He was told that the licence itself would cost £755.56 for 12 months (payable to the Trust) and applied to the local authority seeking housing benefit in respect of the charge. The authority applied CH/844/2002 and determined that it was not “rent” within the scope of reg.12, Housing Benefit Regulations 2006.
The Upper Tribunal allowed an appeal. When a houseboat was moored, the land to which it was moored was included in the “dwelling”. The right to use the land for mooring was conditional upon having the licence from the Trust. The fee was therefore a payment “in respect of a licence or permission to occupy the dwelling”.
Justin Bates and Brooke Lyne, instructed by Advocate (formerly the Bar Pro Bono Unit) acted for Mr AB. The case benefits several thousand houseboat dwellers who, as a result of a combination of earlier cases (R v Bristol CC ex p Jacobs (1999) 32 HLR 841; CH/844/2002; Kirklees MBC v JM  UKUT 219 (AAC)) had been unable to obtain housing benefit in respect of the annual licence fee imposed by the Canal and River Trust.