End military housing 'scandal' and build 'homes fit for heroes', says Leeds MP Alex Sobel

Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire.
Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire.
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Armed forces personnel and their families are being “categorically failed” by a lack of good quality, affordable and suitably located housing and the Government must urgently prioritise “homes fit for heroes”, an MP said yesterday.

Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel detailed how service personnel and their families are being forced into the private rented sector away from supportive forces communities, and facing higher rents in either private or specialist accommodation.

He told the Commons how single personnel are being cramped four in a room, with no en suite bathroom, in homes described by one anonymous soldier as “like a permanent sleepover that nobody wanted to go to”.

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And he raised concerns that Catterick in North Yorkshire is about to become one of the country’s three “super garrisons”, but currently has no houses at all for new postings, with planned additional homes “yet to materialise”.

He said the problems could be traced back to a decision in 1996 to sell off 57,400 service family homes to Annington, a subsidiary of Nomura bank.

Pupils are put through their paces at Yorkshire’s Catterick Garrison

Since then, 20,000 have been sold to private equity firm Terra Firma, a private equity firm, at a profit of £2bn, while the contract allows a rent review in 2021 which could see Annington begin to charge market rents that forces families may not be able to afford, Mr Sobel told the Commons.

“There are very few houses left for armed forces families,” he said, arguing that the armed forces covenant had been breached on housing.

“If the armed forces covenant is to be honoured we must see to our end of the bargain.

“We must ensure homes fit for heroes.

“Anyone who risks life and limb in the service of this country deserves to live in the knowledge that they and their families will be taken care of and they will have a home to come back to.

“Ending the scandal that has cause this crisis in military housing must be a top priority for us all.”

Responding to the comments, a spokesman for Annington said: “Under the terms of the original lease the MoD benefits from a 58 per cent discount to open market rent for 25 years, ending in 2021. This has saved the MoD £4 billion in rent over the period to date.

“The MoD set the terms of the contract and it was delivered to the market on a ‘take it or leave it basis’, it was non-negotiable. The National Audit Office judged it to be a good deal for the MoD, taxpayer and Service families at the time.

“In the period from 2021-24 a process takes place where by rents are reviewed to open market on a site by site basis. However, Annington does not set the rents that military families pay – these are governed by the MoD itself through its Combined Accommodation Assessment System (CAAS).

“Since acquiring the portfolio in 1996 for £1.67 billion the MoD has returned over 18,000 properties to Annington, the majority of which have been refurbished and sold to the general public, mostly to first time buyers and key workers, including Service personnel and ex-Service personnel.

“There is the scope to do much more and we continue to work constructively with the MoD to return vacant properties to use.”