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Housing options for serving and ex-military personnel (excluding service accommodation) (England)

Published Wednesday, January 20, 2016

This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper provides an overview of the housing options available to serving and ex-military personnel in England.

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The principal responsibility for providing housing information and advice to Service personnel lies with the armed forces up to the point of discharge. These services are delivered through the Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO). The GOV.UK website lists the type of assistance on offer to service personnel who are planning to leave the armed forces and who require housing assistance.

The Government published the Armed Forces Covenant on 16 May 2011. This document is described as ‘an expression of the moral obligation that the Government and the Nation owe to those who serve or have served in our Armed Forces and to their families.’ The section on housing is reproduced below:

In addressing the accommodation requirements of Service personnel, the MOD seeks to promote choice, recognising the benefits of stability and home ownership amongst members of the Armed Forces where this is practicable and compatible with Service requirements, and also that their needs alter as they progress through Service and ultimately return to civilian life. Where Serving personnel are entitled to publicly-provided accommodation, it should be of good quality, affordable, and suitably located. They should have priority status in applying for Government-sponsored affordable housing schemes, and Service leavers should retain this status for a period after discharge. Personnel may have access to tailored Armed Forces housing schemes or financial arrangements, depending on their circumstances, to help them in purchasing their own property. Those injured in Service should also have preferential access to appropriate housing schemes, as well as assistance with necessary adaptations to private housing or Service accommodation whilst serving. Members of the Armed Forces Community should have the same access to social housing and other housing schemes as any other citizen, and not be disadvantaged in that respect by the requirement for mobility whilst in Service.

The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow, published alongside the Covenant, outlines measures taken to honour its implementation.

Under section 2 of the Armed Forces Act 2011, the Secretary of State is required to prepare an armed forces covenant report annually; which details progress made in‑keeping with the covenant’s requirements. The latest report was published in December 2015.

In recent years Governments have implemented various measures aimed at strengthening the position of ex-military personnel when seeking to access housing. These measures have included the addition of a new “priority need” category under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (the part which governs homelessness) and changes to the rules on local connection to ensure that barriers are removed for ex-military personnel.  Ex-military personnel have also been prioritised for Government-backed low-cost home ownership initiatives.      

Local authorities' duties

In June 2012 the Government revised the statutory guidance on housing allocations for local authorities. This guidance now emphasises the flexibilities authorities have to prioritise applications from ex-service personnel.

Every local authority allocation scheme must ensure that ‘reasonable preference’ is given to certain categories of applicant as set out in sub-section 166A(3) of the Housing Act 1996. Regulations, which came into force on 30 November 2012, provide that ‘additional preference’ must be given to applications from certain serving and ex-members of the armed forces (and reserve forces) who come within the reasonable preference categories defined in sub-section 166A(3) of the 1996 Act and who have urgent housing needs.

Local connection rule

On 21 June 2007 the then Minister for Housing, Yvette Cooper, announced the Government’s intention to amend the local connection provisions ‘to resolve this disadvantage that members of the Armed Forces have been experiencing in accessing social housing.’ The Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 received Royal Assent on 22 July 2008. Section 315 of this Act amended the local connection test in section 199 of the Housing Act 1996 to enable Armed Forces personnel to establish a local connection in an area through residing there by choice, or being employed there, in the same way as a civilian.

Applying as homeless

If a former member of the armed forces becomes homeless they may make an application for assistance with housing to a local authority under Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (as amended). Authorities must assess whether homeless applicants are unintentionally homeless and in ‘priority need.’ These ‘priority need’ categories are set out in section 189 of the 1996 Act and include vulnerable former members of the armed forces.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities emphasises the need to give local authorities early notification of impending discharge from the armed forces.

Housing association options

Of particular note in terms of social housing provided by housing associations is the MOD Referral Scheme, which is coordinated by the JSHAO.

The MOD Referral Scheme provides for participating eligible personnel to be nominated by the JSHAO for assistance in accessing housing association properties, where such personnel would likely not be afforded a high enough priority to stand a realistic chance of accessing local authority housing (on account of being single or being childless etc.)

Both standard and adapted housing association accommodation is included on the scheme.

Private renting

Naturally, both current and ex-service personnel have access to private rented accommodation, at the terms agreed with the specific letting agent or landlord.

In order to assist with deposit payments, the MOD launched the Tenancy Deposit Loan Scheme in July 2015. The scheme allows serving service personnel to claim an advance of salary to fund the cost of a private rental deposit, which is subsequently repaid over 12 monthly instalments, directly from salary.

Adapted housing for injured service personnel

Local authorities have been expected to give seriously injured service personnel ‘additional preference’ (higher priority) for the allocation of adapted social housing since 2009.

Mandatory disabled facilities grants (DFGs) are available from local authorities in England and Wales and the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland, subject to a means test, for essential adaptations to give disabled people better freedom of movement into and around their homes, and to give access to essential facilities within the home.

The means test for DFGs has been amended so that AFCS and WPS payments for the most seriously disabled service personnel are disregarded for the purposes of assessing eligibility.

Home ownership

On 20 May 2011 the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, suggested that all Low-Cost Home Ownership schemes would routinely place members of the Armed Forces at the top of their priority lists and that Government housing agents would be instructed to go out and actively recruit military personnel for these schemes.

A variety of low-cost home ownership schemes that service and ex-service personnel can apply for. The details of these schemes can be found on the GOV.UK website. For serving personnel, the Forces Help to Buy scheme exists. This is a £200 million scheme which allows ‘servicemen and servicewomen to borrow up to 50% of their salary, interest free, [capped at £25,000] to buy their first home or move to another property on assignment or as their families (sic) needs change.’

Both current and ex-service personnel are eligible for the standard Help to Buy schemes available to the general public, including Help to Buy - Equity Loans and Help to Buy - Mortgage Guarantee.

Alternatively, the Shared Ownership scheme provides military personnel with priority over other groups. Priority status can also be transferred to bereaved spouses and civil partners of service personnel.

Commons Briefing papers SN04244

Authors: Wendy Wilson; Shiro Ota

Topics: Armed forces, Homelessness, Housing, Owner occupation, Social rented housing

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