'Scandal' of empty armed forces homes

Almost 8,000 homes for armed forces families are standing empty despite the Ministry of Defence spending £17m a year renting substitute properties - a situation described as "scandalous" yesterday.

Figures showed there are currently 7,889 unoccupied homes for service families in the UK, including 2,077 that have been empty for more than a year.

Previous data revealed the MoD has spent more than 88m since 2004 on renting homes where no suitable properties are available, with the bill for 2009 topping 17m.

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This included almost 7,000 a month on a single property in Chelsea, west London.

In a series of written parliamentary answers, junior minister Kevan Jones said the 7,889 "void" service family accommodation (SFA) properties represented 15.8 per cent of the total 49,828 stock.

He insisted there were a number of reasons for the homes being unavailable, such as awaiting "routine moves of service personnel", improvement or modernisation work, demolition or disposal.

Those that had been empty the longest were "mainly held awaiting large future redeployments of personnel, pending return to (owners) Annington Homes Limited or awaiting demolition, or where decisions on the future of MoD sites have yet to be made".

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But Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Willie Rennie, who uncovered the figures, said: "It is scandalous that the Government is spending millions renting forces homes despite already having thousands of houses standing empty.

"This is yet more evidence of Labour wasting money even though budgets are tighter than ever.

"With frontline troops still facing shortages of equipment, and their families having to put up with shoddy accommodation, this kind of bungling is unacceptable."