On the 26th January 2007 I posted a Reading Evening Post article about the need to improve forces’ housing. I took the proposals to the Defence Secretary, who expressed enthusiasm for some such scheme. I am reissuing it today, because nothing seems to have happened, and it is time to take it up again. Our armed forces are getting a rotten deal. The very least we could do is offer them some stability in their family housing, and offer them a way of improving it. We need to ensure that when they leave the services, they have a deposit for their own home and are not left trying to obtain poor quality accommodation from reluctant, hard pressed local authorities.
“I was upset to see the poor living conditions many soldiers have to put up with in the recent revelations about the modern army. It was a reminder of how the public sector can let its staff down in important ways.
We saw the lack of maintenance, the poor facilities and run down state of some forces housing. We did not hear about the other problems besetting forces families from the nature of army life. It isnâ€™t just a case of broken bathrooms or worn out kitchens.
Soldiers and their families get moved around a lot. This can disrupt schooling, employment for the non soldier in the marriage, civilian friendships and wider family life. As the accommodation is rented, when the soldier leaves the forces he or she has no accumulated investment in a house or flat and often finds it very difficult or impossible to get the first foot on the housing ladder. Most of their friends and contemporaries have owned a property of their own for several years by the time the soldierâ€™s tours of duty end.
So what could be done about this? I am proposing a means of bringing greater stability, better housing and an investment to those soldiers who would like it.
The MOD should invite tenders from outside financial and property companies to run a scheme which permits the soldier to buy all or part of his married quarters from the army on a mortgage. Very run down quarters would be sold at appropriately low prices with a requirement for the soldier to renovate it. If he chose to renovate it himself he would gain an extra investment for his work. If he used private contractors he would need to borrow the money as part of the mortgage.
When the soldier left the army he could sell the house or flat. The army would have the right to buy it with and for another soldier wishing to enter the same scheme. The transfer would take place at open market value, as if the soldier owner were selling it on the open market. The retiring family would have capital from the sale to buy a new home. The incoming soldier would have the chance to build up his investment over his time in the army.
Each soldier would buy at a barracks which became his home barracks. In all normal circumstances whenever he was in the UK he would be based at that barracks. His family would stay there if he was abroad on duty without them. If the family went abroad the army and its contractors would organise a short term tenancy so the rent could help pay the mortgage payments.
This scheme would be voluntary, but I think it would be popular with many army families. They would like more freedom to do up and look after their own property like the rest of us, and they would appreciate keeping up with the housing market when it starts to rise again in due course. They would welcome money coming in to improve the quality of the accommodation. The army would still have the right to allocate the home to a new soldier when the old owner left the service, and in the early years would have substantial capital receipts allowing it to buy better equipment, or more land and buildings for other purposes. It would be a win win.
Perhaps there are some bright entrepreneurial businesses out there that would like to make it happen. Something needs to be done, and it doesnâ€™t look as if the Treasury is going to come up with enough money to do up all the run down houses anytime soon.”