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The Environment Agency is to repay licence fees which have been wrongly charged on houseboats, with a bill that could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds .

It follows a High Court ruling in favour of two boaters in East Anglia. They succesfully argued that their unpowered houseboats did not need licences. Their case was based on the legal definition of a vessel - as a boat which can be propelled under its own power.

The EA had threatened the two and another 30 boat owners with prosecution. As well as dropping proceedings the EA is having to reminburse other houseboat owners it wrongfully charged.

Although the court case was centred on EA's Anglian waterways the ruling will also apply to the Thames.

The EA estimates up to 100 houseboats are affected on its waterways. To date, approximately 50 houseboats on the Thames have been identified, with work still going on to determine final figures.

So far £21,500 has been refunded to owners with eligible houseboats on the Anglian waterways and approximately £100,000 to those on the Thames but the final bill could be much higher as houseboat owners are still being contacted.

Annual charges vary between the two waterways. However, the average for Anglian waterways is approximately £977. Reimbursement is backdated to 2011 when the Environment Agency (Inland Waterways) Order 2010 was implemented.

The agency has written to all houseboat owners informing them of the revised guidelines. They have been informed how they can check their eligibility for reimbursement and urged to make contact if they believe they qualify.

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “Following the High Court ruling we have revised our classification of houseboats to make it clear which need to continue to be registered and which do not. All houseboat owners have been contacted about our amended guidelines and how they can check if they are eligible for reimbursement.”

Story dated March 9th 2017