The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Anna Soubry)
The Government remain committed to ensuring that our service personnel and their families have access to good quality accommodation at a price that is substantially subsidised compared to civilian options. Our programme of investment in service family accommodation has delivered significant improvements since 2010; last financial year alone, we invested £90 million in upgrading existing stock and £150 million buying over 700 new service homes. We now plan two key changes to the way in which we deliver and manage service family accommodation which together will ensure that the aspects of greatest importance to our personnel continue to improve through further targeted investment.
The first change is a new contract for maintenance and support services. This will effectively incentivise delivery partners to ensure a step change in the service provided to our personnel. They will significantly improve the customer experience, with an expanded electronic service establishing a one-stop shop for all accommodation issues. We have also imposed far stricter performance targets, demanding a quicker response to problems and repairs with more on-the-spot investment to resolve them and a “fix first time” culture. This contract will come into effect on 1 November 2014 in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and on 1 December 2014 for the rest of the UK.
The second change is a major reform of the charges paid by personnel for the houses in which they live. This is part of the new employment model, which aims to put in place an affordable and sustainable package of employment, remuneration and support that will enable the recruitment and retention of sufficient capable and motivated service personnel.
The current system for determining accommodation charges is no longer fit for purpose. It uses out-of-date methods that are no longer relevant to modern living. It is also so complex and subjective that it is difficult to achieve consistent and regularly updated assessments. As a result, despite the investment in recent years, assessments of a large number of properties have not been updated or graded accurately. More than half of our properties are not being charged at the appropriate rate, meaning that rents have fallen significantly behind the rising standards of military accommodation. Various reviews, both internally and by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body (AFPRB) have strongly recommended reform. This Government will now introduce a modern, objective system that will enable our personnel to see exactly how their charges are calculated and what they get for their money. We will continue to look to the AFPRB for their recommendation on overall accommodation charge rates.
The new charging system will be introduced for service family accommodation in April 2016. Over the next 18 months, a survey programme will provide underpinning data to allow every property’s accommodation charge to be reassessed against the new criteria and updated accordingly. This will change charges so that they accurately reflect the quality of the home provided. We are not proposing to increase the top charge rate: indeed, far fewer personnel would pay it. Many of those currently paying charges at the lower end of the scale, particularly where they live in upgraded, better quality properties, would see charges gradually increase over a number of years but will rise at a set annual rate that is scaled according to rank and property type (we expect this to be limited to about £20 to £30 a month for other ranks).
All additional rental receipts will be reinvested into military accommodation. From April 2016, no service family living anywhere in the UK will be allocated a property that does not meet the Department for Community and Local Government’s decent homes standard. A programme of investment in energy efficiency over the next five years will also mean that every service family in UK military accommodation should face energy bills significantly lower than the national average.
The new charging system is simpler, fairer and will help to put our service accommodation on a sound, long-term financial footing that will enable enhanced future investment.