Report looks at service families’ accommodation

20 October 2009

The Public Accounts Committee report published today on Service Families' Accommodation, examines the condition and management of the housing stock, the process for allocating accommodation and moving Service families, the maintenance service and the encouraging of home ownership.

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"The standard of accommodation for the families of our servicemen and women is of continuing concern to this Committee. So it is with disquiet that we learn from an NAO survey of service families that almost a third consider their houses to be in poor condition. And nearly a quarter regard their properties as poorly maintained.

"Now, most by far of the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) housing stock falls within the top two of its condition categories; but the second of these two categories encompasses a lot of variation in property condition. Emerging findings from the condition survey currently being undertaken by the MoD suggest that the proportion of properties in the top category is decreasing and that in the second is increasing.

"Far too many properties are currently standing empty - almost one in five. This is a poor use of resource. The department needs to speed up its decision-making and bring more of these properties into use or dispose of them.

"Service personnel have to move regularly but they are given very little information in advance about the houses they have been allocated. And, when they arrive, too often the property has not been cleaned properly and repairs have not been done. The MoD should improve its processes for the hand-over of properties. It also needs to benchmark its delivery of housing services, including maintenance, against that by other housing providers."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 41st Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Ministry of Defence (the Department), examined the condition and management of the housing stock, the process for allocating accommodation and moving Service families, the maintenance service and the encouraging of home ownership.

The Department has around 50,000 properties in the UK, providing accommodation for 42,000 Service personnel and their families. It has to manage around 20,000 Service family moves each year. Around half of Service families surveyed by the National Audit Office considered the condition of their property was good, but, disappointingly, a third said it was poor. Around 90 per cent of the Department’s housing stock is within the top two of its four condition standards, which meet or exceed the Government’s Decent Homes Standard. Emerging findings from the Department’s recent condition survey, however, show there are now fewer properties at Condition 1 (35 per cent) and more at Condition 2 (59 per cent) than previously recorded.

The Department intends to upgrade all properties to Condition 1 well within a 20 year timescale, and all of its 2,300 Condition 3 and 4 properties to the top standard by 2012. Condition 2 is a broad category. The Department has not analysed in sufficient detail the condition of its properties so that it can demonstrate which meet the Decent Homes Standard, and determine the investment needed to upgrade properties.

The Department has many properties sitting empty and is still some way off its target of having only 10 per cent of properties vacant. Each percentage point reduction in the number of empty properties could reduce costs and free resources by over £2 million.

The Department’s system for allocating property is complex, and results in limited choice for families. Families receive minimal information about the properties to which they are allocated and in many cases they only see the house for the first time when they arrive to move in. Too many families are moving into properties which are not properly cleaned. There are a number of simple improvements the Department can make to its processes, which will improve the experiences of families moving in to properties and enhance how it captures occupants’ concerns and complaints.

Nearly a quarter of families consider their properties to be poorly maintained. Despite improvements in the reported performance of the maintenance contractors in England and Wales, the proportion of repairs fixed first time and communication of progress are inadequate. The Department has not yet benchmarked its housing services with other housing providers.

Image: PA/Johnny Green

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