Roy Deane and Whilton Marina where does the truth lie?

I am sceptical. It’s in my nature, so when I became aware yesterday (27 November 2012) of a story of Facebook my scepticism kicked in.

The story came to my attention due to a tweet from Roy Deane’s twitter account (@RockmineInfo), this tweet contained a link to a status update on Facebook, containing a story about Deane’s experience attempting to buy a boat from Whilton Marina.

My initial response to this story was to be appalled that such a thing could happen, it appeared to be a clear case of abuse of process on the part of Whilton Marina.

He states that:

When I saw [nb Manu Tahi], the asking price was £ 19,950. Several weeks after first seeing it, I found it was still available. To me, it offered everything I wanted and above all, it had a good “feel” about it. I’d discounted dozens of other craft and was happy to put an offer on the boat. My first offer was refused but my second accepted – £ 17,950. It had a homely feel to it but was tired and in need of work on the interior which I accepted.

The asking price (£19,950) is consistent with Manu Tahi’s page on Whilton Marinas website, which Deane links to in his status update. It also states on this page that the price has been reduced from £21,950 and that the boat is under offer whether this is by Deane I have no way of knowing.

It’s a 50′ boat from 1978, there’s no mention of overplaying in the advert so it would be fairly safe to assume that some is likely to need to be done and that the boat has been priced accordingly. The inside, as far as I can see from the pictures is as Deane said “a little tired” but there doesn’t appear to be anything startlingly wrong with it. Of course I would never buy a boat from photographs alone so this doesn’t mean much, it just means that if I were looking for a roughly 50′ cruiser stern narrowboat that needed some TLC, this might be one I’d go and see.

At this point Deane has had an offer of £17,950 accepted and has put down a £1000 deposit to secure the vessel subject to survey (so far so good).

I booked a survey with an independent surveyor included in a list provided by Whilton. The surveyor, Craig Allen even said I could be on hand when he looked at the boat. As it would let me see all the problems first hand with an expert safety examiner, I jumped at the chance.

On Monday, 19th November, I met Mr Allen at Whilton. We were unable to start with the hull survey as a crane would using the area adjoining the slipway but as I had travelled down from Perthshire in Scotland, someone at the marina made sure we were able to start on other elements of the survey.

It was an eye-opener. Behind a pleasant enough exterior, a series of major issues needed to be dealt with. The boat failed its survey on several safety issues but also a major insurance one. The hull needed to be re-plated.

I have watched boat surveyors in action on more than one occasion and it is a fascinating procedure, the “hit it with a hammer” school of testing is particularly dramatic. At the end of the survey you get told what the examiner has found and whether or not, in their opinion, the price is a fair one. Before we booked our survey we did a bit of research into the surveyor recommended by the Marina and of course we were there on survey day poking our noses in and generally getting in the way as the potential purchaser is meant to.

With that in mind I started by having a look to see who Craig Allen was: he is listed online as an independent boat surveyor and boat safety scheme examiner. There is no evidence of his company number on his website nor is there any reference to his qualifications. However, a quick search using the Boat Safety Scheme Find an Examiner page pulls up his entry so far so good.

Next step, finding his entry on the International Institute of Marine Surveying’s site. This proves more difficult although I can find Steve Hand MMIRC, the guy who did our survey, with very little difficulty. When I do find Allen I discover that he is listed as SuppIIMS. I know enough about membership of professional bodies to wonder what that means so I go and look at the various different types of membership that are available. It appears that SuppIIMS means Supporting Member of the IIMS a supporting member is defined on their website as:

Individuals having an interest in Marine Surveying and who encourage and approve of the aims of the Institute.
Past, Full or Associate Members who have retired and retain an interest in Marine Surveying and Consultancy, but no longer carry out surveys.

If alarm bells aren’t ringing by now they should be. On the other hand it is fairly normal to ask the marina you’re buying the boat from to recommend a surveyor so the fact that the two surveyor’s listed on Whilton Marinas website are a SuppIIRC and GradIIRC (he’d be the one to go for) is in itself slightly worrying.

**

Oddly, I wasn’t undaunted [sic] and went back to the marina office to give them an update on the surveyor’s verbal comments. A couple of salesmen gave me a price per foot for re-plating but pointed out they were not necessarily the cheapest and there were other companies who could do the work.

By the end of the week, I had the full survey report and a copy had per my instructions been sent to Whilton. After a couple of days, they put a cost on the safety and insurance work of £ 14,010 inclusive of V.A.T. The surveyor’s Conclusion & Valuation had stated, “Upon completion of all Insurance and boat Safety works, I feel the offer of £ 17,950 to be a reasonable one.”

I find that last sentence quite interesting, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to force the vendor to do the work (which would almost certainly be undertaken at Whilton Marina who have admitted that they are not necessarily the cheapest, and it subsequently turns out couldn’t do it in a time frame suitable to the purchaser) and then stick to the original price. The purchase was “subject to survey” and it failed the survey, this is the moment to either walk away or renegotiate the price based on the results.

I was told by Whilton that after commission, the vendor would get £ 2,240. Someone had mentioned that the boat was his pride and joy and as such, news of the work needing undertaken must have been heart-breaking. I really felt for the seller and was prepared to increase my price to cushion the blow slightly. That was how things were left on Sunday.

This is clearly guilt-tripping, the state of the vendors finances and feelings are not, at this point the purchasers problem. It was very nice of Deane to consider raising his offer a little to “cushion the blow slightly” but not good business practice. It could be this admission that caused him to be taken for a ride.

It is now the 25 November.

On the afternoon of Tuesday 27th November I was contacted by Whilton and told that the vendor was not prepared to sell at the agreed price but wanted their original price of £ 20,950. I had already paid a £ 1,000 deposit which is meant to stop gazumping and yet, here I was effectively being gazumped. I countered with a verbal offer of £ 19,495 which a short time later I was told had been accepted.

At this point it becomes clear that Deane really wants this boat and is being taken for a ride. Personally I would have walked away before this, you wouldn’t put up with this kind of behaviour when buying a house or a car. This is not an auction, you’re not supposed to be fighting to pay the most. If the vendor wants more for the boat than it’s worth then so be it. Walk away, you’ve lost £500 but saved a whole lot more.

That was when things took an unexpected turn. A salesman called Robert from Whilton told me that they had bought the boat from the vendor and waived their commission as they would make their money on doing the re-plating work. I was suddenly in a situation where I was no longer able to consider other companies but being forced to accept Whilton’s price and their terms.

This is all very odd, why on earth would anyone from Whilton Marina tell a purchaser this kind of information? Come to that why would the buy the boat and waive the commission when they could have had the commission and the remedial work?

They do buy boats for cash and it is possible that the vendor decided just to hand the boat over because they would get more for it that way, it’s unethical but could be worth the vendors while in the circumstances.

They made it clear that the plating could not be started until late January or February which I had stated was unacceptable. As my plan had always been to have the boat transported to Scotland by road, I saw no problem in taking it to anyone who could do the work. Needless to say I remembered the words of the salesman who had said there were other companies who could re-plate for less.

What is not made clear here is how much Whilton Marina wanted for the boat at this point.

I’m assured by Whilton that these are standard practices which I would love to doubt. Setting that aside however, there is the issue of Whilton buying a boat at a knock-down price based on a survey that I had paid for. I asked if the survey money would be reimbursed as a result but was told they would only ever do a hull survey which would cost £ 250 (not the £ 500 I was charged). My reaction was to ask for that but was told it would not be forthcoming if I decided not to proceed.

This does not seem like standard practice to me either, although Maffi has stated that he thinks he remembers something like this happening before with Whilton Marina I haven’t heard of it. There does seem to be a problem of procrastination here, and of Deane admitting that he could afford to spend more than he’d offered. Had he walked away after the survey and gone looking for another boat there’s a fair chance that Whilton Marina would have acquired the boat for cash on the basis of the survey that Deane had sent to them anyway. The only difference is that Deane wouldn’t have known about it. It also would, no doubt, have popped up on the “recently surveyed” section of their website.

**

So far, so tragic. But, having read it through a second time and gone to Deane’s twitter feed I suddenly realised there were inconsistencies.

I settled after several months of looking, on a boat called “Manu Tahi” being sold at Whilton Marina[.]

This statement, that he has been looking for a boat for several months doesn’t map with Deane’s Twitter statement on 20 November:

After 6 months tweet

Although to be fair he does post this about an hour later:

Update tweet

That’s just 8 days ago. It is 6 months since he mentioned that his house had been sold though:

House sold tweet

So lets assume, for the sake of argument that he has been looking for a boat to “make the ultimate pad” for most of the time that he’s been living between the “rental property” and France.

He also tells us that the survey happened on Monday 19 November, which is the day before he announces on Twitter that he’s looking for a boat.

The third major inconsistency is the claim that the vendor is looking for the original asking price of £20,950. The Wilton Marina page states that it was originally £21,950.

**

There seem to be gaps in this story. Why did Deane wait so long to confirm the purchase in the first place? Why doesn’t he respond to @ mentions on twitter individually. There were if I remember only two of them in the first place.

So, the survey had actually happened when he tweeted that he had put an offer on a boat and would be re-negotiating subject to survey, was he thinking about going public with this story even then?

If true this is a horrible thing to have happened, however, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are two sides to every story and that it is unlikely that Whilton Marina will be able to comment on this case.

**

Incidentally, I have satisfied myself that Roy Deane is a real human being – I can tell you the address of the house he sold in Perthshire (along with the date he sold it and the price he sold it for), his private phone number and the name of the woman who he lived with (though I have no idea of the relationship). I have not spoken to him other than the tweets wanting to know if he’s real or not because it all seemed a little too convenient. Mr Deane if you happen to read this and would be happy to be interviewed then please let me know and I shall contact you using one of the methods above (or possibly your email address).

Continuous cruising and access to primary healthcare

As those of you who’ve read previous posts on this blog will no doubt be aware, I am a traveller. Specifically I am a live-aboard boater who continuous cruises. There are all sorts of problems with the continuous cruising guidelines, not least that CART are attempting to make my way of life if not illegal at least impossible. Like most younger continuous cruisers I (and my partner Skippy) have to work – if we’re lucky then we don’t have to work all the time or we can arrange to work in such a way as to allow our lifestyle to carry on regardless but, for both of us, working means staying around an area for a year or so while we work through our contract(s). What this means in reality is that we are tied to an area within two hours commute of our places of work for a year or so, then we move on. I’ve been doing this since 2006, Skippy joined me in February, in the time I’ve lived-aboard I’ve lived/worked in Reading, London and Bath with significant amounts of cruising in-between (if you’re following Miss Inexperience I will be taking the journey across to the west country fairly soon I promise).

Today, having been without a GP for the last three months I registered at my local practice. It just so happens that my local practice is near to my registered address. It’s a sad fact of life in the 21st Century that you are not really allowed to be a person “of no fixed abode” so an address on the land is essential as is pointed out in this RBOA quote from an article about living aboard – it seems to be under the impression that all itinerant live-aboard boaters are elderly, however this is not the case, Skippy and I use our parents addresses (as we always have done, they’re never going to get rid of us):

Once on board permanently, you will be a person of no fixed abode. This is not acceptable in today’s Britain where the first piece of information you are always asked is your postcode. To have a credit card, a bank account and a British Waterways licence you will need a permanent address on shore. This is why you have children. They’ve used your home as a convenience for years, it’s your turn now. (From RBOA article “Life as a Continuous Cruiser”).

My registered address is the one I use for the usual suspects (bank account, mobile phone contract) it puts me in an interesting position but most of the institutions I deal with are very tolerant of my itinerant lifestyle, as all of my interactions with them are online or over the phone it’s not really a big drag on my life. When I’m sure I’m going to be in an area for long enough (i.e. I’m looking for a job there) I arrange a Mail Boxes Etc account in the local area so our post can be forwarded to us and we can arrange for things to be delivered to a local address, and, of course we can register with a doctor.

The NHS guidelines regarding registering with a doctor state that the first thing you should do is:

Choose the GP surgery that you want to register with and check it covers the area where you live.

Well that’s all very well but the CART Guidance for Boaters Without a Home Mooring [PDF] state:

“Place”
The law requires that stops during such cruising should not be “in any one place for more than 14
days”.

“Place” in this context means a neighbourhood or locality, NOT simply a particular mooring site or
position.

Therefore to remain in the same neighbourhood for more than 14 days is not permitted. The
necessary movement from one neighbourhood to another can be done in one step or by short gradual
steps. What the law requires is that, if 14 days ago the boat was in neighbourhood A, by day 15 it
must be in neighbourhood B or further afield
. Thereafter, the next movement must be at least to
neighbourhood C
, and not back to neighbourhood A (with obvious exceptions such as reaching the
end of a terminal waterway or reversing the direction of travel in the course of a genuine cruise).

What constitutes a ‘neighbourhood’ will vary from area to area – on a rural waterway a village or
hamlet may be a neighbourhood and on an urban waterway a suburb or district within a town or city
may be a neighbourhood. A sensible and pragmatic judgement needs to be made.

It is not possible (nor appropriate) to specify distances that need to be travelled, since in densely
populated areas different neighbourhoods will adjoin each other and in sparsely populated areas they may be far apart (in which case uninhabited areas between neighbourhoods will in themselves usually
be a locality and also a “place”).

Exact precision is not required or expected – what is required is that the boat is used for a genuine
cruise. [emphasis mine]

Even ignoring issues regarding the exact wording of the British Waterways Act which merely states:

the applicant for the relevant consent satisfies the Board that the vessel to which the application relates will be used bona fide for navigation throughout the period for which the consent is valid without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances.[British Waterways Act 1995 Section 17.3.c.ii]

without any guidance as to what constitutes a “journey” (although I personally would argue that moving backwards and forwards between neighbourhood A and neighbourhood B as I know some so called continuous moorers do, does not in fact constitute a journey, except perhaps, in the sense that one might take a journey to and from work/school/university). That aside, the requirement to remain in one place for “14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances” is well known amongst the live-aboard community if not well respected. According to CART

Circumstances where it is reasonable to stay in one neighbourhood or locality for longer than 14 days
are where further movement is prevented by causes outside the reasonable control of the boater.
Examples include temporary mechanical breakdown preventing cruising until repairs are complete,
emergency navigation stoppage, impassable ice or serious illness (for which medical evidence may
be required).

Such reasons should be made known immediately to local Trust enforcement staff with a request to
authorise a longer stay at the mooring site or nearby. The circumstances will be reviewed regularly
and reasonable steps (where possible) must be taken to remedy the cause of the longer stay – eg
repairs put in hand where breakdown is the cause.

Where difficulties persist and the boater is unable to continue the cruise, the Trust reserves the right
to charge mooring fees and to require the boat to be moved away from popular temporary or visitor
moorings until the cruise can recommence.

Unacceptable reasons for staying longer than 14 days in a neighbourhood or locality are a need to
stay within commuting distance of a place of work or of study (e.g. a school or college).

This document was significantly changed in 2011 following the judgement [pdf] in BW vs Davies and has been subsequently amended during the BW/CART handover to make the definition of both place and journey clearer.

So what is the relevance of this to my attempting to register with a GP? Well, not a lot if I don’t tell the GP that I live on a boat however it’s quite hard to avoid doing this as it permeates every aspect of my life. If you’re lucky, as I have been on several occasions it’s possible to get yourself registered with a GP who realises that live-aboard boaters without a home mooring are unlikely to ever be within the catchment area of the surgery for more than 14 days at a time (given that catchment areas for GP’s surgeries and neighbourhoods tend to be of a similar size). Since requiring an individual to register with a new GP every two weeks is ridiculous as a proposition there tend to be surgeries in areas near the canal who will take on continuous cruisers without issue, aware that their situation is not comparable to that of the static community. In fact, for those of us who try to cruise within the spirit of the legislation and keep ourselves moving over large distances for large proportions of the time our situation is closer to that of the Roadsiders in the land-based travelling community who

have great difficulty accessing primary health care and it is almost impossible for people to access secondary care without a referral from a GP. Many Roadsiders will only access health care at the point of crisis as homeless services are heavily over-subscribed and waiting times can be extremely long. This results in an overdependence on A&E Departments with many people opting to use these instead of crowded and sometimes culturally inappropriate Walk in Health Centres. At A&E departments people know that they will not have to explain their housing situation, will be guaranteed to be seen that day or at least within a few hours and will generally receive a good level of care. It must be stressed however that this is not an “easy option” for many Gypsies and Travellers, but one taken by many because they feel they have no other choice. [1]

I don’t have the cultural barriers to healthcare access and, as a middle class, university educated woman with an RP accent (when I try anyway) I’m good at getting access to the services I am entitled to use even given my itinerant lifestyle. The problem here is not in fact my ability to find a surgery who will be reasonable about my lifestyle and will give me the assistance I need but that not everyone has access to that. In theory it doesn’t matter where you live you should be able to walk in to any GP’s surgery and make an appointment if you need it. The problem is, that if you don’t have an address you can’t get registered at that first point. This situation has lead to me being without a GP for nearly 6 months, it doesn’t massively matter to me, I’m not on any regular medications (other than contraceptives, and there are ways round picking those up) but itinerant lifestyles are not just for the young and healthy, in fact most true continuous cruisers are in their later years and as a result are more likely to need regular access to primary and secondary healthcare. It’s time the NHS stepped up and did something about this terrible state of affairs, no one should be told as I was earlier today that there was basically no point in my registering as I’m going to be moving my boat soon and therefore will be moving out of the catchment area of the surgery, and will no longer be allowed to use their services. Of course if I move far enough away for it to be impractical to go back to my surgery for an appointment I will move my GP, of course I will, but in the mean time I should be allowed access to primary healthcare without being made to feel like a freak for not wanting to live in a house or a marina (which tbh is the “respectable” way to live-aboard).

1. Friends, Families and Travellers, Fair Access for All? Gypsies and Travellers in Sussex, GP Surgeries and Barriers to Primary Healthcare [pdf]

0845 and 0870 I don’t think so

Regular readers of my other blog Miss Inexperience will be au fait with the concept that I live on a boat. As a direct consequence of living on a boat my main phone is … yep you guessed it, a mobile.

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 10 21My mobile contract is with t-mobile UK (soon to be everything everywhere) which means that if I wanted to I could pay an extra £2.50 per month to get 30 minutes of “free” calls to 08 numbers or I can struggle on using saynoto0870.com to attempt to locate geographic numbers (01 or 02 numbers), other peoples land lines or swallowing the cost of ringing the euphemistically named “lo call” numbers only to spend quite a lot of money hanging around listening to poor quality music in order to talk to say … my insurance company (MCE insurance only list 0844 and 0871 numbers on their site, as do e bike) or fabulously my GP Surgery (the offender has now gone back to a geographical number presumably as a direct result of customer feedback).

Calling a non geographic number from a mobile costs, we all know that, what it is difficult to find out is how much it costs. No where on the t-mobile website is it actually listed, instead there is a page where you can type in your non-geographic number (070, 08, 09, 116 or 118) and a captcha and find out what it will cost you to call that number (if you happen to have a computer with internet access at the time). As an example here’s the main contact number for MCE insurance with the costs for ringing it from a t-mobile phone:

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 45 57

While I was playing with the form I decided to check an 0800 number, this is the one to call if you need to claim Job Seekers Allowance (which you can do for free from the job centre or a public call box if you can find such a thing and it’s clean enough for you to feel you can use it). It seems from this that T-Mobile have finally acquiesed and made 0800 numbers free, although I notice my current contract is excluded from this. I hope when I renew it they will waive the 7.4p per/minute charge or I might think about not renewing my contract after all.

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 21 57 51

Skippy as readers of his blog will know, is with O2 (poor O2 is all I can say to that), so for comparison I went looking for the equivalent tariffs on his network. This is what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2012 09 25 at 22 14 42

As you can see there is no mention of 0845/0844 numbers on there, but I do find this format easier to understand (and considerably more useful) than t-mobile’s take on it. According to OfCom calls to 0843 and 0844 numbers which are used by businesses for sales, enquiry and customer service lines as well as some pay-as-you go internet access services should cost:

between 1p and 13p per minute for landline customers. Calls from mobile phones are typically
charged between 15p and 41p per minute, depending on the provider and the number called.

0845 numbers are slightly cheaper varying from 1p to 10.5p per minute from landlines to between 12p and 41p per minute from mobiles. While 0870 numbers vary massively even from landlines

Calls from some fixed networks cost no more than a geographic rate call (01 or 02, between 2p and 10p plus a call set-up fee in some cases) and may count towards any inclusive minutes in the same way. Calls from other fixed networks typically cost up to 10p per minute. From some mobile networks calls typically cost between 12p and 41p per minute.

Recently some other providers have also included calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers in call packages, making them free at certain times of the day.[1]

So, what is the advantage of having a non-geographic “lo call” number in the age of the mobile phone?
Anyone? No, I didn’t think so. In fact if you search the OfCom website for “0845 numbers” or “non-geographic numbers” you will find a lot of evidence that the general public are most unimpressed with them, so why are they hanging on when people don’t like them? Well, people don’t like automated call handling systems either but there doesn’t seem any likelihood that we’ll be getting rid of those in a hurry either. So, are non-geographic numbers really that much of a problem?

Well yes, actually they are. They are when you have an accident, and need to claim on your insurance and have to spend over half an hour on the phone to the insurance company (quite a large proportion of that on hold), or when you have to ring the RAC (which you’re inevitably going to be doing from a mobile). The extortionate charges for calling these numbers is ridiculous (yes, I know that the out of allowance call rate for geographic numbers (01/02 numbers) is similar, but the difference is the ability to bundle them. Calls to non-geographic numbers (not premium rate numbers if you want to ring those that’s you’re own problem, I’m talking about the numbers for service providers) are to my knowledge outside the scope of all mobile phone contracts inclusive minutes. Some of this is a problem of mobile phone companies charging unfairly for use of their services, but that’s a whole other blog post. In the mean time it is possible for companies to circumnavigate this problem by always providing an easy to find geographic alternative to their “lo call” number.

The continuation (perpetuation) of “lo-call” rate numbers could be down to the fact that these numbers are “revenue sharing” where part of the call cost is paid to the recipient of the call (the way these numbers are administered is due to change in 2013). Whatever the reason behind their perpetuation in a world where there is no difference between the cost to call a number within your area code and a number outside it, they seem like an extremely unfair way of generating extra money from a consumer who has no choice but to call because they require the service that is being provided (i.e. insurance) and who cannot vote with their feet because they are only calling because they have to and not because they are trying to buy something from the company in question.

I don’t have an answer to this other than to say please, give us a geographic alternative.

[1] data from Number Crunching: How much does a phone call really cost? [PDF], (prices correct as of 18-07-2012)