Army wives force MoD about-turn over housing

Soldiers marching
There had been warnings that the housing plan would harm retention rates and lead to an 'irreversible effect' on the capability of the Armed Forces - ilbusca/Getty Images Contributor

A Ministry of Defence plan to change the way Army accommodation is allocated has been shelved amid a backlash from military wives, The Telegraph can reveal.

The controversial proposal – which would have allocated housing by the number of children a serviceman or woman has, rather than their rank – was paused by Grant Shapps days after The Telegraph revealed growing anger at the scheme.

The Defence Secretary halted the rollout and ordered a review amid fears the Modern Accommodation Offer (MAO) plan was so unpopular that it could have led to an exodus of officers.

A source close to Mr Shapps said: “The Secretary of State is right to get to grips with this. He will pause the family accommodation part of the new policy while we consult and evaluate the policy and make sure it is fit for purpose.

“Some concerns have been raised from senior officers, and we are confident that we can make changes so that this is a policy which will work for everyone.”

A group of Army wives had started a campaign against the plan, warning that it would harm retention rates and lead to an “irreversible effect” on the capability of the Armed Forces.

Staff have historically been rewarded with larger homes as they progress through the ranks of the Army, Navy and RAF, and the new system had been set to begin next month.

Rosie Bucknall, the wife of an Army captain and one of the women who launched the campaign, said: “This development is exactly what we have been hoping for.

“We are thrilled the Defence Secretary has stepped in to apply common sense to such a drastic change and represent the interests of the people for whom he is responsible.”

However, she added: “The proof lies in what happens next, and how serving families are engaged.”

On Saturday, The Telegraph revealed the backlash against the scheme, with Mrs Bucknall accusing the MoD of an “utter betrayal”.

On Sunday, it was revealed that Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, had told former generals that the plan presented a “risk to the social fabric of the Army”.

The MoD is understood to have been taken aback by the scale of the anger. One senior Army source told The Telegraph that he had officers threatening to quit over the proposals, and said that on Monday he had been receiving updates “on an hourly basis” about how to manage the fallout.

The families of officers are often forced to move around the country every two or three years, and often have little to no choice on where they live.

However, servicemen and women had previously been entitled to a home of certain size, decided by their rank. Under the new plan, a junior ranking person with one or more children would be entitled to live in a larger house than an officer of higher rank with no children.

The decision to pause the MAO plan came amid fears about its effect on recruitment and retention at a time when the military is increasingly under pressure. The number of people leaving the Armed Forces jumped by almost a fifth at the end of last year.

In January, the chairman of the Nato military committee warned of war with Russia within 20 years, and British forces are currently taking part in a Nato exercise representing the largest deployment of land forces to Nato since the height of the Cold War in 1984.

The Telegraph also understands that the MoD will not get extra funding in the Budget next month, despite military figures warning about the state of the Armed Forces.

A government source said the concerns about rank-based housing allocation would be the key area that the MoD would review, noting that it could impact the hierarchical nature of the military’s chain of command.

“By pressing pause, we are recognising the fabric of the military and the pressures and tensions of it,” said the source. “We need to make sure we work out the bits people aren’t happy about so that we can find some solution.”

The source said more research would be conducted with officers, as well as their families, after just 69 people were originally interviewed about the impact of the scheme.

They added that other parts of the plans would be continued with, including providing help when military personnel were moved to another base and with legal fees for first-time home-buyers.

“These people make the sacrifices they make and we are keen that they have a good standard of places to live – we don’t want people to be so unhappy they are leaving,” said the source.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are committed to widening entitlement to those in established long-term relationships and parents with non-resident children.

“But we have listened to feedback and are therefore pausing the rollout of the elements of the policy related to service families’ accommodation, including the move to needs-based allocation and, in the short term, the widening of entitlement.”