Army families are currently facing high levels of mobility – Jill Misson looks into the impact of frequent moves and what support is in place.

Moving house is an upheaval whether you’re new to military life or an old hand. The tri-service FAMCAS Survey 2023 revealed that 72 per cent of army families had moved in the last five years.

Lisa Rogerson (main photo) from Help for Movers relocated more than 20 times with her serving husband and has written a guide to share tips and checklists. She says: “The better you prepare, the smoother the move and it’s never too early to declutter.”

Her three children learned to see moving house as an exciting adventure: “The younger they were, the easier they found it to adjust. The older they got the more important it was to include them in researching new areas and setting up their bedrooms.”

Louise Fetigan, founder of charity Little Troopers, says: “These are big moments in small people’s lives and it doesn’t matter how many times you do it, the process doesn’t get any easier.

“We offer families and schools lots of resources and information to support children.

“Show them that you acknowledge how difficult they might be finding a move and give them the opportunity to share their feelings and thoughts, as well as helping them to find the positives, such as being closer to extended family, having a park nearby or a bigger bedroom.”

Home moving process

If you’re moving to Service Family Accommodation (SFA) in the UK, the application and allocation process is handled by Pinnacle. You can find a helpful guide at AFF Housing Specialist Cat Calder says: “Availability of SFA varies greatly from one area to another. In some areas it is practically one in, one out. If no SFA is available at your entitlement then you may, depending on family size, be offered one down or one up from your entitlement.

“If no SFA is available at all then a Non Availability Certificate (NAC) will be issued which will start the process to source Substitute Service Family Accommodation (SSFA).

“However, in some areas private rentals are very hard to come by. Whilst not ideal, it is better to remain in the current SFA until SSFA is sourced rather than try to move to a temporary option at the new assignment.”

In specific circumstances, such as allowing a child to finish exams, a family can retain SFA for up to 12 months. Retention is an extension of current entitlement so must be requested and authorised before the last day at the current duty station, not retrospectively.

Boarding choice

“We decided to send our children to boarding school because of the postings as it was affecting their academic progress,” says spouse Ellen Owusu.

“It is one of the best decisions we have made for them as it has given them the stability they needed for a continued education.”

Continuity of Education Allowance can be claimed towards fees from the academic year of a child’s eighth birthday to support family mobility with accompanied service.

To find out about nurseries and schools in a new area, AFF Education and Childcare Specialist Anna Hutchinson says: “Most local authorities have a Family Information Service which should have an up-to-date list of childcare providers.

“Social media is a good way to find out more from families in situ. For schools, look at the local authority webpages for guidance on how to apply and the timelines. Let them know that you are a military family as they can allocate places prior to you arriving when the application is accompanied with an assignment order.”

SEND considerations

Parents of children with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) should check the local authority’s ‘local offer’ page. AFF Health and Additional Needs Specialist Karen Ross says: “Read the setting’s SEND policy and arrange a visit to see if it is right for your child. It’s also advisable to finish the process of an education, health and care needs assessment before moving if possible.”

Education, Health and Care Plans can be transferred between local authorities in England and families can get support from the Defence Children Services Education Advisory Team, their local Special Educational Needs and Disability Information, Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS) or from AFF.

When moving with a child who has mental health issues and who is undergoing therapy or on a waiting list with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), support is available in some areas in England under the Op COMMUNITY pilot.

It helps families to navigate the NHS system and ensures that any NHS waiting list time accrued is taken into account so they retain the relative waiting list time in the new location. AFF has access to contacts who can support in the devolved administrations and overseas.

Dental issues

Another hurdle when moving house can be registering at a new dentist. Karen says: “We get significant numbers of enquiries about lack of NHS dental provision, particularly in England. Where possible we encourage families to remain with their NHS dentist even when moving.

“We have raised this issue with both the NHS and Armed Forces Covenant team, but it is a national issue and there is acknowledgement from the Government that provision needs improving and capacity increased, but this takes time.”

Unique challenges

The army recognises the unique challenges faced by families when moving. Colonel Claire James, Assistant Head Army Remuneration, says: “Mobility of service personnel is key so that we are able to maximise readiness. To support our people and their families, allowances and provisions are available when moving to a new location.”

The hassle of moving is greatly reduced as a removal company will transport your belongings to a new assignment location at MOD expense. During the move, families are likely to be eligible for an allowance towards food, drink and overnight accommodation.

Disturbance Expense (DE) contributes towards additional expenditure, for example cleaning, post redirection, installing domestic appliances and provision of furnishings. The extra Child Element of DE contributes to costs including new school uniform. Relocation leave of five to ten days also helps service personnel to prepare, move and settle in a new location.

When moving overseas, you can apply for up to four months’ net pay in advance. Colonel James says: “Removals and duty travel arrangements, including passports and visas, will all be taken care of, at cost, so that families can arrive in the overseas location in good order.

“To reduce the separation from your close family and friends, Get You Home (Overseas) assists towards the costs of one return journey to the UK, or country of origin for non-British passport holders and dual nationals in some cases, for each 12-month period assigned overseas.

“If you’re accompanied and conditions allow, GYH(O) will also contribute towards the costs of the return journey for your spouse or civil partner and any eligible children.”

The tax-free Local Overseas Allowance (LOA) is designed to contribute towards the difference in the cost of living in an assignment location and the cost of living in the UK. LOA is not linked to any potential loss of partner employment as a result of an overseas assignment, but does include boosted contributions for those accompanied and those with children.

Issues fed back

AFF regularly meets with the army remuneration team to feed back the issues and concerns that families raise to help improve policy. Money & Allowances Specialist Claire Hallam suggests that families in receipt of Government benefits check what they can receive while overseas. While Universal Credit and child benefit are still accessible and the MOD does replicate some support, other benefits may not be available.

Armed Forces Covenant commitments are in place to be aware of. Claire says: “The Motor Finance Protocol allows for a car to be taken on finance overseas, while broadband and phone providers may waive cancellation fees or allow you to suspend contracts, if moving due to assignment. However, these do not apply to all companies, so it is important to check with your provider or you could be out of pocket.”

Employment concerns

Moving frequently can be challenging for spousal employment. Army spouse Geri Dougall says: “My career progression and lack of stable income has been a bitter pill to swallow at times. I was taking any job in the first year of a posting just so I could have some money coming in and then by the second year I would find a better suited job and, just as I was settling into work, it was time to move again.”

Geri bought a franchise running baby and toddler classes. She says: “The intention was to be able to set up at any new posting but, after seeing how much time and energy it takes to establish a small business, I realised our constant moving around just wouldn’t work in reality. We’re putting down roots and buying a home here where my little girl is settled in school.”

For Ellen, the transient lifestyle continues. She says: “My mantra has always been that I choose to bloom wherever I find myself. I make the conscious effort to see the good in every posting and look forward to getting to know the new locations and the new connections I am going to make. My advice is have a positive mindset, and grab opportunities that come your way. Ask for help if you are struggling as you’re not alone.”

You could win a copy of the Help for Movers Step by Step Guide to Moving House by Lisa Rogerson, published by Help for Movers. 

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