WHEN you’re preparing for a move-out, do you ever wish you weren’t moving to another quarter? Maybe you dream of buying your own house where you can paint the walls any colour you like. Perhaps you’d rather rent in town instead of living on the patch. To take advantage of subsidised accommodation though, Service Family Accommodation (SFA) is usually your family’s only option. However, times are changing…
THE 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review committed the MOD to making a career in the armed forces more compatible with modern family life. The Future Accommodation Model (FAM) is being tested in a three-year pilot at three sites. The trial period in Aldershot starts on 31 January 2020.
Colonel Jim Taylor, assistant head army personal services, explained how FAM will be fairer and more flexible: “While the current offer is attractive for many, for some it’s not.
“As a result, the benefits are unevenly spread. This can lead some to opt out of service accommodation, while others are forced to compromise on family life because specific preferences cannot be supported.
“The key benefit of FAM will be greater personal choice about how you want to live. Some of you may want to stay next to your base in SFA, some may choose to live in private rental accommodation and others in your own home.”
Eligible personnel would receive a financial contribution towards rent or a mortgage.
Rather than only considering relationship status and rank, there will be more emphasis on need, widening the eligibility for SFA, as Col Taylor outlined: “It will include those in established long-term relationships and those with a child who is anticipated to be resident with the serving parent for over 80 nights each year.”
AFF acknowledges these positive steps in the right direction but there’s a word of caution from AFF housing specialist Cat Calder: “The changes to the cohabitation rules are welcomed, however, unless posted to a pilot site, you’ll only be eligible to surplus housing.
“We advise all cohabiting couples considering taking up SFA to ensure that you are able to afford to move back into the private rental market on your next posting if necessary.”
SFA is like any other piece of military kit, you have to hand it back when your soldier leaves the army, so it’s worth sitting down to discuss your family’s short-term housing plans and what you’re aiming for in the long-term.
The Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO) is geared up for incoming enquiries about FAM from anyone living in a pilot area. The team also hosts presentations to help you make decisions about future housing with information on home ownership schemes and ways to save. If your soldier is leaving the forces, you can get support to find social housing although availability is always limited and never guaranteed.
Army spouse Emily Slater bought a house as an investment but chooses to live in SFA.
She said: “It’s affordable and we can all live together. For my husband it’s handy living so close to his office. It’s a close-knit community with activities for kids and a nursery.
“Living behind the wire feels very secure but it’s a pain having to sign in visitors and it isn’t well connected by public transport, so you have to drive everywhere.”
For those wishing to escape the goldfish bowl of life on the patch, a private rental may be appealing. There are points to bear in mind that would differ from SFA, as Cat Calder explained: “It’s your responsibility to pay the bills and it may be harder to get repairs done.
“There’s still limited ability to decorate and you may not be allowed pets. The lack of security of tenure means you could have to move if the property was put up for sale.”
Some families need to remain mobile to receive Continuity of Education Allowance.
“I have to move around and not having any roots does worry me but CEA is one of the essential allowances of the job,” said Corinne Spencer, who is currently living in SFA in Gibraltar while her children are at boarding school in the UK. She added: “None of our quarters have been unbearable and if our children can make friends for life and have a good education that’s definitely worth a duff quarter.”
The Hall family (pictured) got on the property ladder using the Forces Help to Buy scheme, which enabled them to afford a bigger house. Although they now have more stability, they spend more time apart due to postings.
Settling in one location has been positive for her photography business and Deb feels that the aspirations of army families have changed.
She said: “Most spouses are working now compared to back in the day when they stayed at home. It was a single salary coming in, and married quarters were deliberately cheap.
“The military housing stock is ageing and we have lived in some disgraceful quarters, so if families can afford a better standard of accommodation, why shouldn’t they have the choice?”
Choice is at the heart of FAM but it’s a complex project which needs to be tested, Col Taylor confirmed: “The pilot will allow us to understand any issues with the new model and to listen to what our service personnel and their families think.
“Only once the pilot is complete and the results analysed will a decision be taken by the MOD whether to roll out FAM.”
AFF is working closely with the FAM Cell and will continue to keep you updated during the pilot through briefings, social media and Army&You.