Article by John-Paul Tooth
The Ministry of Defence is rethinking how it provides accommodation to forces personnel and their families.
The 'Future Accommodation Model' (FAM) could see more Army families moving away from military digs and into private accommodation, or 'helped onto the property ladder'.
According to Soldier Magazine, the MoD-published official monthly publication of the British Army, the rethink has come about after falling satisfaction levels with service housing (to the extent that some are opting to leave the military), although no details have been finalised yet.
Chief of Defence People, Lt Gen Richard Nugee, said in a letter to service personnel last month:
"Affordable and good quality accommodation must be available for our personnel. This is central to the offer now, and will continue to be so in future."
The MoD hopes any move would prove cost-effective whilst addressing issues such as rank being prioritised over need when service housing is allocated, or single soldiers not having enough room at home for visiting children.
It sees a widening of the number of people entitled to Service Family Accommodation (SFA) as unaffordable because of the number of new homes that would have to be built.
Instead, the MoD is considering providing money so personnel can live in private accommodation, either near to their base or further afield - with allowances contributing towards commuting and rent cost.
It's highlighted four possible options that could face soldiers in future - click below to let us know which you would prefer...
The consultation period is expected to last until the end of the year, with no decision expected before then.
If approved, the move would be introduced gradually, starting with a pilot in a few years' time. An MoD spokesperson said:
"Our plan is for a housing offer that suits 21st century families and we are currently consulting with personnel and their families to see how we can best meet their needs. The Future Accommodation Model is not about cost cutting - which is why regardless of the outcome, we will continue to provide £450m to help personnel keep rent low."
Army families, meanwhile, have already been having their say on the proposals - and it's fair to say they've been met with a fair degree of scepticism.
Military charity the Army Families Federation (AFF) undertook a survey this year on the topic of military housing, with over 8,000 people taking part - more than all of its previous questionnaires put together.
The survey found that if SFA was reduced and a rent allowance offered instead, 46% of those questioned would consider leaving the Army, while 30% would definitely leave.
If given the option of remaining mobile, said they 70% would prefer to stay in SFA and be provided with the existing package of removal and disturbance expenses, while 30% would like to receive a rental allowance with entitlement based on need, not rank.
43% said they would like the flexibility to decide where to live on each posting, depending on their circumstances, with 39% saying they would like to live in service accommodation. Just 7% said they would buy a house more than 50 miles away from the unit, a further 7% said they would buy a house within 50 miles of the unit, and 4% said they would like a private rental allowance.
74%, meanwhile, said what they liked most about service housing was living close to other service families and being part of a community - something also highlighted in the worded responses. One person wrote:
"The support network provided by 'the patch' is invaluable. Nowhere on civvy street will yet get the understanding, help and camaraderie which is provided for spouses and partners."
Others argued that "moving to mixed civilian/military estates will cause a great deal of harm; to both morale and unit cohesion", and that "living and working together is the backbone of the British Army."
One military spouse said:
"The Army is top of my husband's priority list. If we did not live in SFA we would never see him", while another respondent feared that "the outcome will be more time spent commuting, less time spent with family and reduced security."
The AFF echoed many of these statements, meanwhile:
"This support network is nearly impossible to replicate outside of the SFA model... AFF senses that FAM is being driven by a financial agenda rather than a genuine desire to provide a flexible accommodation package, and this is echoed in the sentiments of families’ responses to our survey.
"We know already that people are leaving the service because they cannot make the balance between family life and a military career work; AFF feels FAM would further aggravate this situation."
What do you think about the new proposals, though? Just vote in our poll or comment below or on our social media pages to let us know...