Moving into your own property is a major milestone if you’re an army family. Getting the keys to your own place is exciting – and not just because you can paint the walls a colour of your choice! Jill Misson reports…

Desperate to decorate, Kelly Ball was quick to declare “there will be no magnolia in this house” on her completion day.

Moving out of Service Family Accommodation (SFA) to settle in your own property can give your family more stability and ease the transition to civilian life. AFF’s Housing Specialist, Cat Calder says: “Access to subsidised accommodation is like a piece of army kit; it will end on your last day of service. You can’t rely on social housing which is scarce in many areas and, unless you start saving for a deposit early, you may find it hard to afford anything you would aspire to own.”

Kelly’s mind was made up on her son’s first day at a new school in Germany. She says: “We watched him running around the playground on his own and although he was happy, it upset us that he was no longer with his friends.

“We decided there and then to buy a home to allow him to make a group of friends to start secondary school with.”

Her husband receiving Local Overseas Allowance meant that Kelly could save what she earned for a deposit. She says: “Do a spreadsheet to make sure you can afford it. Our mortgage is double what we paid for SFA and we pay more for fuel and light plus water and council tax.”

Money sense

Costs are explained during briefs by the Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO) and guidance on home ownership can be found in its magazine Home Matters. Information sheets are available from the HIVE and they offer support via phone or email.

If you want to buy or rent in a Scottish town or city, there’s a charity you can contact. Olivia Lindsay from Housing Options Scotland says: “It can be confusing and daunting but we work with each client at their own pace to explore what will work best for them.”

Forces Help to Buy is making home ownership more affordable. A serving person is allowed to borrow up to 50 per cent of their salary interest-free, capped at £25,000. The loan is repaid over ten years. AFF is pleased that it has been extended until 31 December 2022.

“It’s one of the best MOD house purchase schemes for some time and since its pilot launch in 2014, I have helped thousands of families,” says Nadine Monks, Director of Forces Family Finance. She explains: “For many this would be their only option to secure a home and for others it enables them to dream a little bigger or secure a lower interest rate. Getting independent mortgage advice early on can help you to manage your expectations and give you time to prepare.”

AFF’s Money Specialist Claire Hallam says: “There are other government schemes including shared ownership, First Homes and savings schemes for under-40s such as a LISA. Military  allowances, such as Get You Home Travel pay, can assist a serving person with the costs of travelling to and from their own home at weekends.”

Tara Coyles-Gould is in a long-term relationship and admits that without Forces Help to Buy, they wouldn’t have been able to get the house they really wanted. “It enabled us to put down a bigger deposit and we love living in our own home,” she explains. “There are many upsides, one big one being that when my ‘not-husband’ is home, he’s away from work life. We spend a lot of time together, which is lovely, even when we were weekending for a few months. The children have a solid base which doesn’t change and probably won’t do for many years now. You don’t necessarily have the same support network when you live away from SFA, however, and that becomes far more noticeable during times like deployments.”

The future

The MOD is looking at how to make the system of subsidised accommodation fairer and more flexible. The Future Accommodation Model (FAM) is being trialled in three locations with a decision due in 2022 on whether to extend it across the rest of the UK. Lt Col Bill Bowen, SO1 FAM, says: “The experiences and views of serving personnel are being heavily taken into account and feedback shows that giving more accommodation options is extremely beneficial.”

Those who want to buy or live in a home they already own can receive financial support. Lt Col Bowen adds: “The reimbursement of legal expenses is a great opportunity to reduce the costs of purchase by £1,500. We give clear guidance that the core payment should not be used in order to help secure a mortgage, and in this light, it has proven to be a useful payment towards monthly household needs.”

When WO1 Sorcha Harney was posted to the FAM pilot site at Aldershot, she was able to rent on the private market with a monthly contribution of £400. She says: “The togetherness of Single Living Accommodation may be great for the first few years of service, but at some point, people want their own space so they can entertain and have friends and family over.”

Making it work

While moving off patch can enable families to live closer to their support network, it can be lonely for some. Kelly says: “I made some of my best friends in SFA but here, everyone seems to have established their friendship groups, so I miss running over to my friend’s pad in my pyjamas with a bottle of wine.”

Alex Russell agrees: “I feel like a single parent during the week and you don’t get the same support in the civilian community, for instance, giving my boys lifts to football when I’m on my own. On the upside, I’ve gained employment that I hope to stay in long term, the children have made strong friendships and settled into school and social clubs really well.

“We’ve made our house a home, no wasting money on rent – it’s a good feeling knowing we own our house.”

Rachel Dawson is grateful to finally progress in her career but misses her husband. She says: “It’s hard being separated and weekends seem rushed so we don’t see much of each other. I miss the
community and social aspects, but I don’t miss march-out, quick moves or magnolia!”

Time to adjust

Being apart can put pressure on a relationship but you may find you get used to it after a while, according to Izy Hinchley, who says: “We struggled to adjust and became very distant from each other but eventually we started to communicate better. We’ve well and truly settled into this new way of living now. We bought in the town we grew up in, so we’re able to see our friends and family on a regular basis.”

Settling down after so long moving around is a big step and it might just take a little time for everyone to adjust. Izy says: “You get to choose your house and the area you live in, so take your time and make sure it’s what you want. It’s hard at first, but its worked out great for our family.”

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