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The maintenance and repair of service family accommodation has long been an issue for armed forces personnel.

In 2016 the Public Accounts Committee said service families “have been badly let down for many years” and are not getting the accommodation service they “have a right to expect”.

In the Defence Accommodation Strategy, published in October 2022, the Ministry of Defence committed to ensuring personnel can access accommodation that is “of good quality and in line with modern living standards.”

However, the performance of the new contractors who took over responsibility for maintaining and repairing service family accommodation in 2022 was described as “unacceptable” by Ministers in December 2022, amid reports of loss of hot water, heating, mould and a backlog of cases.

In the 2023 Defence Command Paper refresh, the Government described the provision of service accommodation as “essential for the operational effectiveness of the Armed Forces” and pledged a £400 million investment over the next two years.

In November 2023 the Minister for Defence Procurement made a written statement laying out preparation plans for maintenance and repairs for winter 2023.

The Defence Committee launched an inquiry into Service Accommodation in July 2023. The inquiry is chaired by Robert Courts MP.

Service accommodation is divided into service family accommodation (SFA) and single living accommodation (SLA).

Decline in satisfaction with service accommodation

Satisfaction with accommodation has “fallen markedly” in the last year.  Fewer than half of personnel are satisfied with the overall standard of accommodation, according to the Armed Forces Continuous Attitudes Survey (AFCAS) 2023. Published in June 2023, the survey found only 19% of respondents were satisfied with responses to, and the quality of, maintenance and repair requests. Satisfaction with the responses to, and quality of maintenance/ repair work of service family accommodation has fallen 13 and eight percentage points respectively since 2022. Levels of satisfaction with responses to, and quality of maintenance/repair work for single living accommodation are 27% and 29%, respectively.

Poor accommodation may also be affecting retention. Over a quarter of respondents (29%) identified accommodation provision as a factor influencing intentions to leave (for comparison, the top factor, cited by 63%, was the impact of Service life on family/personal life).

The survey was conducted between September 2022 and February 2023. The AFCAS report says the timing of the survey, which coincided with significant complaints about service, may have had some impact on the results.

New contractors in 2022

Responsibility for maintaining and repairing service family accommodation has long been contracted out to specialist providers.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) is responsible for the defence estate. This includes allocating service family accommodation (SFA) and procuring and managing routine maintenance and repair.

In 2021 the DIO replaced the previous Next Generation Estates Programme contracts with new Future Defence Infrastructure Services (FDIS) contracts. The DIO said these were designed to be “very different” from the previous, much criticised contracts, with incentives for suppliers to reduce disruption for families.

Under the new FDIS contracts, Pinnacle Group manages the overarching national accommodation management services contract. It acts as a single point of contact for accommodation issues for personnel. Two other companies, Amey and VIVO, are responsible for carrying out repairs and maintaining properties.

Complaints about maintenance and repairs under the new contracts

Complaints about the service provided by the new contractors began to emerge in the latter half of 2022. Service families reported issues with response times, missed appointments and lengthy delays to resolve loss of heating and hot water.

MPs raised concerns with Ministers in Parliament, including in an Urgent Question in December 2022. Alex Chalk, the then Minister for Defence Procurement, said the performance of the new contractors was “unacceptable. The Shadow Defence Secretary, John Healey, described issues with mould and lengthy waits for repairs as a “straight-up scandal”

Senior staff from Pinnacle, Amey and Vivo, in evidence to the Defence Committee on 27 November 2023, said understaffing contributed to the issues experienced last winter. Craig McGilvray, of Amey, said the service delivered at the beginning of the contract “was entirely unacceptable”.

More information about the types and standard of accommodation, and maintenances issues during winter 2022/23, can be found in Commons Library briefing Armed forces family housing: Maintenance issues (CBP9716), published in February 2023.

Funding improvements to service accommodation

The Defence Command Paper refresh, published in July 2023, pledged a £400 million investment in accommodation over the next two years. This is split into £220 million for financial year 2023-24 and £180 million for 2024-25.

The £220 million for financial year 2023-24 was received in July 2023. As of 20 November, £38 million had been spent and works completed. A further £151 million has been allocated, with the remainder subject to financial approval.

Planning for winter 2023/24

On 6 November 2023 James Cartlidge, the Minister for Defence Procurement, made a written statement on the MOD’s plan for winter 2023. Mr Cartlidge said that “lessons were learned and action is being taken” after the poor experience of last winter.

The Minister said that funding for maintenance and improvements has doubled from £160 million to around £380 million for the current financial year. Some of this money will be spent on treating and preventing damp and mould.

Damp and mould mitigation packages, involving increasing insulation, upgrading extractor fans and resealing windows and doors, will be in place for around 4,000 families. Further work on thermal upgrades (including new doors, windows and external wall insulation) will be funded. Boiler and heating upgrades for around 1,500 homes will also be funded during the current financial year.

Further steps taken in preparation for winter are laid out in the written statement, which can be found in this debate pack.

The MOD has provided further information in response on the current situation with accommodation in response to written questions.

As of 1 December 2023:

  • 20,800 Service Family Accommodation (SFA) properties have reported maintenance issues related to heating since April 2022.
  • 6,945 SFA properties have reported maintenance issues relating to hot water since April 2022.
  • 1,617 issues have been reported relating to heating and 1,685 issues relating to hot water in single living accommodation since April 2022.
  • 1,359 Service Family Accommodation received a damp and mould treatment package, between 1 April 2022 to 1 December 2023
  • The number of calls to Pinnacle National Service Centre reporting damp and/or mould peaked in March 2023, when 1,789 calls were made. 550 calls were made on this issue in November 2023.
  • 1,114 families living in service family accommodation were required to move out of their homes due to maintenance issues, in the period 1 April 2022 to 1 December 2023
  • 15 families who live in SFA are living in temporary hotel accommodation as a result of maintenance issues in their home, as at 30 November 2023.

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