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1. This is guidance by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government under section 169 of the Housing Act 1996 (‘the 1996 Act’). Local housing authorities (‘local authorities’) are required to have regard to it in exercising their allocation functions under Part 6 of the 1996 Act.
2. References to sections in this guidance are references to sections in the 1996 Act.
4. Local authorities are encouraged to review their existing allocation policies and revise them, where appropriate, in the light of this guidance as soon as possible.
Background and purpose
5. The Armed Forces Covenant, created by virtue of the Armed Forces Act 2011, is a promise from the nation to those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether Regular or Reserve, and those who have served in the past, and their families. It commits that they should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public services. It also recognises that special consideration is appropriate in some cases, especially for those who have given the most such as the injured and bereaved.
6. Delivering on the Armed Forces Covenant, in 2012 the government introduced protections to ensure that members of the Armed Forces community are not disadvantaged in accessing social housing because of the requirements of military life.
7. In 2018 the government introduced the Homelessness Reduction Act duty to refer which requires the Secretary of State for Defence to refer members of the Regular Forces, who may be considered to be homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days, to a local housing authority of their choice, with the individual’s consent. A person who is vulnerable as a result of having been a member of Her Majesty’s Regular Armed Forces (a veteran) has a priority need for accommodation. Former members of the Armed Forces will include a person who was previously a member of the Regular naval, military or air forces.
8. On 24 May 2020, the Secretary of State announced plans for thousands of long-term, safe homes to support many of the vulnerable rough sleepers who have been supported during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, vulnerable rough sleepers taken off the streets during the pandemic can get the specialist support they need, including support relating to needs resulting from having served in the Armed Forces, to rebuild their lives. This unprecedented commitment – the biggest of its kind since the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative began – will be backed by £160 million in 2020 to 2021 to inject 3,300 new units of accommodation this year, part of 6,000 in total.
9. This document provides a single standalone piece of statutory guidance on allocating social housing for the Armed Forces community. It brings together, updates, and builds on existing advice in the 2012 and 2013 statutory guidance.
10. The purpose of this guidance is to assist local authorities when considering applications for social housing by members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and their families. More specifically, the guidance sets out how local authorities can ensure that estranged spouses and civil partners of serving personnel are not disadvantaged when applying for social housing, and that members of the Armed Forces and veterans suffering from mental ill health are given the priority for social housing that they deserve.
11. The guidance also seeks to ensure understanding of the particular circumstances of the Armed Forces community, so that their housing needs are considered appropriately; and to promote a consistent approach across local authorities in considering applications from members of the Armed Forces community.
Qualification for social housing
12. Section 160ZA(7) of the 1996 Act gives local authorities the power to determine who qualifies, or does not qualify, to be allocated social housing, subject to any regulations made by the Secretary of State under section 160ZA(8).
13. In 2013, the Secretary of State issued statutory guidance (the 2013 guidance) encouraging local authorities to include a residency requirement of at least 2 years as part of their qualification criteria. The 2013 guidance is aimed at ensuring that only people in need who have invested in, and demonstrated a commitment to, their local community may be considered for an allocation of social housing.
14. Certain members of the Armed Forces community are exempt from any residency requirements, by virtue of regulations made under section 160ZA(8) which prevent local authorities from applying a local connection test to disqualify such applicants. These are:
a. Those who are currently serving in the Regular Armed Forces or who were serving in the Regular Forces at any time in the 5 years preceding their application for an allocation of social housing.
b. Bereaved spouses or civil partners of those serving in the Regular Forces where (i) the bereaved spouse or civil partner has recently ceased, or will cease, to be entitled to reside in Ministry of Defence accommodation following the death of their Service spouse or civil partner, and (ii) the death was wholly or partly attributable to their service.
c. Serving or former members of the Reserve Armed Forces who are suffering from a serious injury, illness or disability which is wholly or partly attributable to their service.
15. These provisions recognise the special position of members of the Armed Forces whose employment requires them to be mobile and who are likely therefore to be particularly disadvantaged by local connection requirements. The provisions extend to bereaved spouses and civil partners of Service personnel recognising that they are likely to experience similar issues. Reservists are included, recognising, for example, that those who have been seriously injured as a result of their service may need to move to another local authority district in order to access treatment, care or support.
Spouses and civil partners of Armed Forces personnel
16. The 2013 guidance advises local authorities, when adopting a residency test, to also consider the wider needs of the Armed Forces community, and to be sympathetic to changing family circumstances.
17. We are aware that some local authorities take account of this advice and exempt from their local connection or residency requirements spouses and civil partners who are required to leave accommodation provided by the Ministry of Defence following a breakdown in their relationship with their Service spouse or partner. We support this approach. We recognise that local connection requirements can impact on the transition to civilian life for those who have themselves had to move frequently in support of their Service spouse or partner, making it difficult for them to maintain a career or to improve their employment prospects. They may not be willing or able to settle in the district where their former Service spouse or partner is stationed, particularly if the estrangement has involved domestic abuse, and that they may need to move closer to their family and support networks.
18. The Secretary of State strongly encourages local authorities to exempt from any local connection requirements divorced or separated spouses or civil partners of Service personnel who need to move out of accommodation provided by the Ministry of Defence.
Other qualification considerations
19. Authorities are reminded that they retain a discretion to deal with individual cases where there are exceptional circumstances and that such circumstances may arise in relation to the wider Armed Forces community. We recognise that the requirement for Service personnel to move from base-to-base can impact on other family members, including for example adult children who also may no longer be able to remain in the family home.
20. More generally, local authorities are encouraged to consider whether other qualification criteria they have adopted are likely to disadvantage members of the Armed Forces or have a disproportionately negative impact on them, and the scope for making appropriate exceptions where this is the case. For example, when taking account of an applicant’s income or assets in determining whether they qualify for social housing, local authorities may wish to disregard any lump sum received by a member of the Armed Forces as compensation for an injury or disability sustained on active service.
21. Occupants of Service Families Accommodation who remain in residence following the expiry of a notice to vacate become irregular occupants and are charged mesne profit charges for trespass. This may occur after Service personnel leave the Armed Forces, or their estranged partner remains in occupation after a relationship breakdown. Housing costs support for mesne profit charges is not available within Universal Credit, nor is Housing Benefit available to those living in a Crown Property. As a result, occupants may accrue mesne profit debt. Where local authorities take into account rent arrears or a housing debt in determining whether an applicant qualifies for social housing, they may wish to be sympathetic towards Service personnel or their former partner who have accrued such mesne profit debt. Occupants may provide a copy of their notice to vacate or Certificate of cessation of Entitlement to Service Families Accommodation as evidence that they are no longer able to occupy their home. If local authorities have any queries about the status of such applicants they should contact the MOD Loss of Entitlement Team (DIORDAccn-LOETeam@mod.gov.uk) – see further at paragraph 41.
Priority for social housing
22. The government is clear that we expect social homes to go to people who genuinely need them. That is why provisions in the Localism Act 2011 have maintained the protection provided by the statutory reasonable preference criteria which ensure that overall priority for social housing is given to those in housing need.
23. We have also retained the power for local authorities to frame their allocation scheme to give additional preference to people who fall within the reasonable preference categories and have urgent housing needs.
24. Section 166A(3), as amended by regulations made under section 166A(7), requires local authorities to frame their allocation scheme to give additional preference to certain members of the Armed Forces community, where they fall within one or more of the reasonable preference categories and have urgent housing needs. These are:
a. Former members of the Regular Armed Forces
b. Serving members of the Regular Armed Forces who are suffering from a serious injury, illness or disability which is wholly or partly attributable to their service.
c. Serving or former members of the Reserve Armed Forces who are suffering from a serious injury, illness or disability which is wholly or partly attributable to their service.
d. Bereaved spouses or civil partners of those serving in the Regular Forces where (i) the bereaved spouse or civil partner has recently ceased, or will cease, to be entitled to reside in Ministry of Defence accommodation following the death of their Service spouse or civil partner, and (ii) the death was wholly or partly attributable to their service.
25. These provisions are intended to ensure that those who have given the most for their country get the priority for social housing that they deserve. They apply to serving members of the Regular Armed Forces, as well as veterans, recognising that those who have sustained a serious injury, for example, may need to move out of service accommodation to suitable adapted social housing before they are formally discharged.
26. The mental health and wellbeing of our Armed Forces, whether they are Regulars, Reservists or veterans, is a priority for this government. We want to ensure that serving and former members of the Armed Forces who suffer from mental ill health are given appropriate priority for social housing where they need it, together with appropriate care and support where this is relevant.
27. Section 166A(3)(d) of the 1996 Act provides that local authorities must frame their allocation scheme to ensure that reasonable preference is given to people who need to move on medical and welfare grounds, including grounds relating to a disability.
28. Annex 1 to the 2012 guidance, which sets out possible indicators of the medical and welfare reasonable preference category, already recognises that this could include a mental illness or disorder. This guidance goes further and makes clear that in the Government’s view this would encompass anyone who needs to move as a result of a mental ill health condition. Authorities are reminded that a serious and long-lasting mental health condition is likely to come within the definition of a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
29. We also consider that an ‘illness or disability’ in relation to the additional preference requirements mentioned in paragraph 23 would include a relevant mental health condition.
30. We recognise that it may be more difficult to determine whether an applicant has medical and welfare needs where the impact on their mental health is the determining factor, rather than their physical health. Furthermore, applicants may sometimes be reluctant to declare issues with their mental health. It is essential that local authorities are sensitive to these issues and that they do not impose evidential requirements that are too onerous, and which deter applicants from evidencing their needs. While any discharge notes from the Armed Forces may be relevant, expecting applicants to provide the whole of their service medical history might be inappropriate.
31. The majority of mental health conditions experienced amongst members of the Armed Forces community are the same as those experienced by the general population: depression and anxiety. These may or may not be attributable to time spent serving in the Armed Forces and they could be due to pre-existing issues. In addition, conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may surface many years after the event that was the original cause of the condition.
32. We would expect local authorities to consult with relevant medical professionals when assessing applicants who raise mental health issues in their applications, and to act within appropriate professional safeguarding and information sharing procedures. This includes both mainstream services and the bespoke veteran-specific mental health services that the NHS in England has put in place. However, we recognise that not everyone may be actively under the care of, or engaging with, a mental health team.
33. There are also a number of charities and non-statutory organisations that provide specialised mental health care and support for veterans, including for example Combat Stress. Local authorities are encouraged, through their Covenant arrangements, to consider how they can develop strong links with these providers. In addition, local authorities are encouraged to take advantage of any specialist mental health awareness training for their staff which is available in their area. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, for example, teaches people to recognise the signs that someone might need support with their mental health and to offer help on a first aid basis.
34. Where specialist supported accommodation is provided for those with mental health issues, it is important that appropriate priority is provided within an authority’s allocation scheme for those who are ready to move on into a sustainable general needs tenancy.
35. Local authorities are strongly encouraged to consider how they can take into account the needs of all serving or former Service personnel when framing their allocation schemes, and to give sympathetic consideration to the housing needs of family members of serving or former Service personnel who may themselves have been disadvantaged by the requirements of military service.
36. Examples of ways in which authorities can ensure that Service personnel and their families are given appropriate priority, include:
Using the flexibility within the allocation legislation to set local priorities alongside the statutory reasonable preference categories. This might mean, for example, giving preference, to those who have recently left, or are close to leaving, the Armed Forces[footnote 1].
Making provision in their allocation scheme to determine relative priorities between applicants in the reasonable preference categories, in accordance with section 166A(5). In this way, applicants in housing need who have served in the Armed Forces, for example, could be given greater priority for social housing over those who have not. One way of doing this might be by including them in a separate ‘community contribution’ band, or by reflecting this in the number of points that are allotted.
If taking into account an applicant’s financial resources in determining priorities between households with a similar level of need (section 166A(5)(a)), disregarding any lump sum received by a member of the Armed Forces as compensation for an injury or disability sustained on active service.
Setting aside a proportion of properties for former members of the Armed Forces under a local lettings policy (section 166A(6)(b)). This might be particularly relevant where the council or housing association partners are bringing new developments on stream. Alternatively, authorities might make a proportion of vacancies available for veterans who are nominated by a local Military charity. See for example, the Veterans’ Nomination Scheme which is operated by the charity Stoll.
Where local authorities use local lettings policies to give more priority to those with a local connection, for example to achieve sensitive lettings in rural areas, they could make exceptions for those who have recently left the Armed Forces and who might have difficulty in demonstrating a local connection anywhere in the district.
37. A number of organisations provide specialist housing and support for veterans, such as the Royal British Legion, Stoll, Haig Housing Trust and Alabare. Housing authorities are encouraged to liaise with relevant organisations to ensure that former Service personnel are able to access the housing option which best suits their needs. The Confederation of Service Charities (Cobseo) maintains a directory of known housing and support services available to the ex-Services community (including those mentioned above) which is updated as necessary.
Identifying members of the Armed Forces community
38. Identifying an applicant as a serving or former member of the Armed Forces at the start of the process is key to dealing with an application effectively and ensuring that applicants are afforded the right level of priority. Many local authorities already include an appropriate question or questions on their application form, or as part of a housing options interview or other housing needs assessment process. Other local authorities are strongly encouraged to adopt a similar approach.
39. Appropriate questions would include asking whether the applicant is a member of the Armed Forces, has ever served in the Armed Forces, or whether they are another member of the Armed Forces community. Questions about the applicant’s existing housing situation – for example, whether they are in accommodation provided by the Ministry of Defence – or their reason for moving from their last settled home could also be useful in obtaining relevant information.
40. The new Veterans ID card should help local authorities to identify and verify those who have served in the Armed Forces. However, as the card is voluntary, it is important that local authorities do not rely on the Veterans ID card as the only form of identification. Other evidence that someone is serving or has served in the Armed Forces might include: an MOD form 90 (or in a modified form in the case of veterans[footnote 2]); MOD pay slips or pension statement; a Defence Discount Service card identifying a person as a veteran (although this does not include photo ID), or a service number. Spouses or civil partners required to leave Service Family Accommodation following relationship breakdown will receive a Notice to Vacate[footnote 3]. Where applicants are unsure about how to provide documentation, local authorities may wish to advise them to contact Veterans UK to find out how to how to obtain relevant documentation to prove their status. Further advice on identifying the Armed Forces community is provided in chapter 3 of the Royal British Legion’s best practice guide, Supporting the Armed Forces Community with Housing in England.
41. Within the Ministry of Defence, there is a discrete unit that manages the loss of entitlement to Service Family Accommodation (SFA) for those Service personnel reaching the end of their military service. The Loss of Entitlement Team (DIORDAccn-LOETeam@mod.gov.uk) within the Defence Infrastructure Organisation is responsible for notifying Service personnel their entitlement to SFA is coming to an end (at least 93 days before the discharge date), and for arranging its hand back to MOD. Although this hand back is normally successfully achieved, a small number of Service personnel do not arrange to hand back the SFA by the date of discharge. On such occasions, the Loss of Entitlement Team would begin formal action, including possible eviction, to regain possession of the property. During this process, it may become necessary for the Team to contact a local authority to discuss housing options for individual Service personnel. Local authorities are therefore encouraged to engage with the Loss of Entitlement Team so that the best outcome can be achieved for the Service person and their family.
42. Some local authorities have informed us that they have appointed Armed Forces community outreach workers attached to the housing team who can support staff with advice and information when dealing with applications from the Armed Forces community. Others have appointed a dedicated housing officer as a single point of contact for enquiries and referrals from members of the Armed Forces community. Both approaches are commended as a way of ensuring that members of the Armed Forces community are identified and their applications dealt with appropriately.
43. Identifying applicants as a member of the Armed Forces community will be crucial to support local authorities’ understanding of how they are delivering against the Covenant, as well as supporting national data collection initiatives.
44. Specialist training for staff and managers to assist them to identify members of the Armed Forces community and understand their specific needs and circumstances should support an improved application process. It will also help to ensure those who have contributed through their service are treated appropriately and given the priority they deserve.
45. We are aware that a number of local authorities have already developed their own specialist training solutions, often working with military charities operating in their area. Those local authorities that have not yet taken the opportunity to develop their own individual approach to training are referred to the e-learning training modules that are available on the Armed Forces Covenant website.
If requested, MOD would issue a Certificate of Cessation of Entitlement to Occupy Service Family Accommodation a maximum of 6 months prior to the date of discharge. However, the Certificate is routinely included within a Notice to Vacate pack, which MoD issues at least 3 months before the date of discharge. ↩
The officially modified MOD Form 90 retained by veterans on their discharge from the UK Armed Forces has both the top left corner of the front of the card cut through the hologram at an angle of 45 degrees and the bottom right corner of the front of the card cut through the expiry date at an angle of 45 degrees. ↩
From the MOD Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) Loss of Entitlement Team. ↩