Thousands of Armed Forces personnel are living in sub-standard accommodation because of Government short-term cost-cutting, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.
The Whitehall spending watchdog said a "fix on fail" approach to maintenance by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) had led to the build-up of a £1.5bn backlog of repairs in military accommodation.
According to the NAO, the MOD is failing in its commitment to provide all personnel with high-quality subsidised accommodation, potentially undermining efforts to improve retention rates across the services.
"Decades of under-investment has left many of the barracks where members of our Armed Forces live in a poor state," the Head of the NAO, Gareth Davies, said.
As of last year, almost 80,000 servicemen and women – more than half of all full-time British personnel – were occupying single living accommodation (SLA) blocks on either a full or part-time basis.
Of those, the NAO said 36% were living in "poorer grade" premises and almost 2,400 were in accommodation considered to be so bad they were not charged any rent.
The Armed Forces continuous attitude survey (AFCAS) found nearly half (49%) were satisfied with the overall standard of their accommodation, compared with 58% in 2015.
The NAO said that among the common complaints raised by personnel were issues with basics such as heating and hot water, limited storage space, poor or expensive WiFi connection and a lack of cooking facilities.
"Decades of under-investment has left many of the barracks where members of our Armed Forces live in a poor state," NAO head Gareth Davies said.
"Problems with heating and hot water are not conditions that they should have to tolerate.
"MOD needs to get this right if it is to retain service personnel in the long term.
Meg Hillier, Chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "These are the people we ask to go out and fight for our country.
"The least they should be able to expect is a hot shower and a decent roof over their heads."
The MOD has planned to spend £1.5bn over the next 10 years on replacement and renovation work, but the NAO said it could be "some time" before there was any significant improvement given the decades of under-investment.
Ms Hillier said it is another example of short-term thinking by the Ministry of Defence.
"Delaying repairs until the last-minute means MOD now faces a bigger bill to get things up to scratch," she said.
“These are the people we ask to go out and fight for our country. The least they should be able to expect is a hot shower and a decent roof over their heads.”
A spokeswoman for the MOD said: "Our Armed Forces personnel are at the heart of everything we do and it is only right they are provided good quality and affordable living accommodation.
"We have invested £1.2bn over the last decade on construction and upgrades of our accommodation and continue to invest in a range of new-build and renovation projects.
"We thank the NAO for their report and will carefully consider their recommendations."
Cover image: MOD.