Latest News & Information


On this page:

31 Mar - About to apply for additional needs adaptation to your Service Families Accommodation?
27 Mar - Update on the New Maintenance Contract
25 Mar - The Armed Forces Covenant and You
24 Mar - New Volunteer Role at AFF!
10 Mar - School Mobility Study
04 Mar - The Family & Childcare Trust findings 
04 Mar - Stafford and Cannock Chase Hospital Information
03 Mar - A Guide to Tax Credits for Army Families
27 Feb - Service couples to benefit from policy change as of 20th February 2014
24 Feb - Tranche 4 Forces Help to Buy (FHTB) Redundancy Scheme
13 Feb - AFF Working Hours Survey - Full Report
12 Feb - Forces Help To Buy: Home Purchase Loan Scheme Rules
05 Feb - Changes to council tax discounts on rental properties
28 Jan - The Early Release Scheme
15 Jan - Survey on impact of refurbishments - the results
21 Oct - Update on DIO customer satisfaction survey
21 Oct - Employment Survey - Thank you for your views
20 Sept - New Employment Model Myth Buster
12 Sept - Voting: Good News!

 

About to apply for additional needs adaptation to your Service Families Accommodation?

Adaptations to SFA iconA new process has recently been published for the adaptations process which aims to make the journey simpler and faster for families. AFF is delighted that many of our recommendations have been incorporated into the new process. 

AFF would be very interested to hear from any families who are currently about to apply for additional needs adaptation to Service Families Accommodation. We would be very keen to follow them through the process so that we can give feedback from families to DIO at the 6 month review point. Please contact Cat Calder at housing@aff.org.uk or Karen Ross at additionalneeds@aff.org.uk 

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Update on the New Maintenance Contract

(National Housing Prime Contract)

As many of you will be aware, the current maintenance contracts within the UK are coming to an end soon and will be replaced with one contractor for the whole of the UK. It is looking likely that the contract will be awarded in May 2014 and the new contractor will then be expected to roll out the new contract five months later – probably starting in Scotland and NI and moving down through the country.

For those of you who remember the issues when MHS first got the contract, DIO has given AFF their assurance that they have taken on board the lessons learnt from then and have applied them to the current contract. There will be a detailed transition plan for the new contract and demobilisation plans for the current contracts – more details to follow on contract award.

The new contract will include;

  • National and regional helpdesks
  • Repairs and maintenance
  • Void preparation and management (looking after empty SFA)

And MIGHT include;

  • Distribution and storage (SFA furniture)
  • Move in appointments (Housing Officers)
  • HASC (Allocations)

More details will follow after the contract award.

AFF will be closely monitoring the situation as the details come out and will let you know what is happening and when. AFF will also feedback any issues to DIO so that action can be taken in a timely manner.

For more detail download A Short Guide to the NGEC National Housing Prime and the DIO letter

If you have any concerns or issues about the new contract please contact Cat Calder on housing@aff.org.uk 

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The Armed Forces Covenant and You

Armed Forces Covenant logoTo raise awareness of the Armed Forces Covenant amongst the Service community the MOD has produced a new leaflet. This will be sent to all those serving in the Armed Forces. Click here to find out what the Armed Forces Covenant means and how it can make a difference for Army families.

If you have any questions on the Armed Forces Covenant, please contact Julie Lowe AFF’s Covenant Liaison on 07833 448352 or covenant@aff.org.uk  

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VP Clock PosterNew Volunteer Role at AFF!

Local Publicity Volunteer

Want to get involved?

Want to help AFF spread the word?

AFF is offering a new and exciting volunteer role, Local Publicity Volunteer. We hope the volunteers in this role will help AFF publicise events such as surveys, awards and the 2014 Conference, ‘The Big Debate’, to the wider community.

We are looking for people who are out and about in their community, perhaps going to a Military Wives Choir, a local book club, school, regiment or patch. You will be provided with information from our Communications Branch to hand out and will have contact with your local AFF Co-ordinator.

To find out more please visit the AFF Volunteer website.

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School Mobility Study

A recent study undertaken by researchers from the University of Warwick has concluded that pupils who move schools three or more times during childhood are 60% more likely to develop psychotic symptoms. AFF has looked at this study and its relevance to Army families. Whilst the study is interesting, it is not clear how applicable this is to children from Army families.

The study did not record whether any of the children involved were from Service families. The study also links the regular moving of schools with issues such as family breakdown and low incomes. It is unclear whether the impact of frequently moving schools is linked to the actual change of school or the fact that the type of families having to move their child from schools regularly are doing so because they are suffering from these family and money issues.

Service families do not move schools because of these issues but because their serving parent has been posted elsewhere to a new job – Service children have moved schools not because their parents have separated, their family is still together but just in a different place due to serving parent’s job.

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The Family & Childcare Trust findings

Childcare issuesThe Family & Childcare Trust findings reflect our own knowledge on childcare issues affecting Forces families. AFF has been pressing command to consider comprehensive childcare solutions to enable spousal employment. AFF recognises that while all families would like to be able to buy their own home that until they are able to achieve a decent second income this will be out of reach for most. Forces families face similar childcare issues as the rest of the population, but have the additional challenges of low income due to mobility and the soldier’s unpredictable working hours guarantee that the non-serving partner is wholly responsible for childcare. For more information and survey results see the Family and Childcare Trust website.

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Stafford and Cannock Chase Hospital Information

There has been a lot of media coverage recently around the NHS care scandal and the standards of hospital care at Stafford and Cannock Chase hospitals, so AFF is aware that many families who are expected to be posted to Staffordshire in the future may feel very concerned about this situation. The information available at the moment is as follows: 

  • On the 26th February 2014 the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced that Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust is to be broken up and key services moved to nearby hospitals. Control of Stafford Hospital will go to the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) and Cannock Chase hospital will be run by the Royal Wolverhampton Trust
  • It is thought that up to 90% of patient visits are continuing to take place at both hospitals
  • Stafford hospital will retain its limited hours A&E department
  • Maternity services are currently being reviewed and Mr Hunt will be assessing whether the consultant – led obstetric unit can be kept
  • Paediatric in-patient services are being moved to neighbouring hospitals 

It is thought that it will take about three years to fully implement the plans laid out for the changes in services at these hospitals. However key services that are not now being provided by Stafford and Cannock hospitals are being provided at other neighbouring hospitals. Therefore all healthcare requirements will be provided for. If you have concerns about being referred to either Stafford or Cannock hospitals for treatment it is advisable to discuss alternative options with your GP or medical practitioner.

For information on alternative hospitals in the Staffordshire area visit NHS Choices website.

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AFF Guide to Tax Credits for Army familiesA Guide to Tax Credits for Army Families

AFF has experienced a rise in queries relating to Tax Credits and has produced a guide with information that is relevant for Army families. In it, we look at the different types of tax credits, what the eligibility criteria is, and what income (such as armed forces allowances) impact tax credits. We also look at some questions AFF has received from families and provide the answers. At the end of this guide are some links and signposts to further information.

Click here to download our guide.

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Service couples to benefit from policy change as of 20th February 2014

A recent Employment Tribunal and Service Complaints Panel have both found that the existing policy on housing for Service Personnel (SP) who are serving married unaccompanied at their permanent duty station was discriminatory. As a result the policy has been changed so that there is now entitlement to single living accommodation (SLA/SSSA) to both married personnel/civil partners who are both serving members of the Armed Forces at their respective duty stations when serving married accompanied. It also means that those designated as PStatCat 5s/c will no longer be charged. For full details click here

AFF is delighted that this change has been made.

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Tranche 4 Forces Help to Buy (FHTB) Redundancy Scheme

Details for the FHTB scheme for Service Personnel (SP) leaving on Tranche 4 Redundancy have been released in DIB2014/09

This is great news for families affected by T4 who wish to purchase their own homes. Both applicants and non-applicants can apply for a short-term loan of up to 90% of their redundancy lump sum or 68,000, whichever is the lower. The loan amount will automatically be recovered from their redundancy lump sum when they leave the Service. The loan can be used by those who wish to buy their first home, modify their existing one or move locations.

AFF believes that this scheme will greatly help the transition to civilian life for those who wish to buy their own home before the SPs discharge date. Moreover, the purchase of a home using a FHTB T4 loan will not affect entitlement to SLA/SFA which will extant until the SPs exit date.

Personnel leaving through this final Tranche of the Armed Forces Redundancy Programme will be sent FHTB T4 application forms as part of the redundancy notification process. Application forms will also be available on the JPA forms page, but must be printed and posted to Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA). Applications cannot be made until written notification of redundancy is received, so this scheme will launch on 12 Jun 14.

For detailed information and full rules for the general ‘Forces Help to Buy’ (FHTB) scheme as well as the new FHTB scheme which relates specifically to Service Personnel leaving as part of Tranche 4 redundancies (FHTB T4), go to Joint Service Publication (JSP) 464.

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AFF Working Hours Survey - Full ReportAFF Working Hours Survey - Full Report

In autumn 2013 AFF surveyed families to determine whether ‘working hours’ of their soldier was increasing and what impact this was having on the family. In short the answer was yes and this was affecting the family in many ways, not least relationships between spouses and with children. It was also taking its toll on spouse employment with a significant proportion giving up work or struggling with childcare as the serving soldier was no longer able to share the responsibility. Take a look at our final report to see the details.

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Forces Help To Buy: Home Purchase Loan Scheme Rules

FOR SALEThe eligibility criteria and a summary of the policy rules for the new ‘Forces Help To Buy’ (FHTB) scheme have been published. The scheme will be launched on 1 April 2014.

The FHTB scheme will enable Armed Forces personnel to apply for an interest free loan of up to 50% of salary, (capped at a maximum of 25,000), repayable over 10 years. Those leaving as a result of Tranche 4 of the redundancy programme qualify for a separate scheme, the details of which will be communicated shortly.

For the duration of the FHTB pilot, the existing Long Service Advance of Pay (LSAP) scheme will be frozen. Personnel with an existing LSAP arrangement can also apply for a FHTB loan, with the outstanding LSAP amount being consolidated into one arrangement under FHTB.

The FHTB scheme will be administered in a similar way to LSAP, with applications submitted via JPA. The application form will be available via JPA from 1 April 2014. Mortgage companies are expected to be ready to offer mortgages to those with FHTB loans shortly after the scheme goes live.

For more information please refer to 2014 DIB/07.

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Changes to council tax discounts on rental properties

In 2012 Parliament passed legislation which allowed Councils to vary the amount of Council Tax they charged for some empty properties. These changes came into force in April 2013.

Each Council had to formally decide what charges they will now apply to empty properties and this means that there are currently different rules and charges under different councils.

So what does this mean to Army families? Well, if you own a property which you rent out you may now be liable for Council Tax for the period of time it is empty between lets. AFF advises that you contact your local Council to see what their new regulations are so that you are prepared and can budget for the time between lets.

NB: This change does not affect the 50% Council Tax reduction on furnished but unoccupied second homes which Forces personnel should be entitled to under the job related dwelling section as this was ring-fenced by Parliament so that councils cannot vary the amount of discount they give.

If you have any concerns or issues with Council tax charges or discounts please contact Cat Calder on housing@aff.org.uk.  

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The Early Release Scheme

An Army Briefing Note (ABN06/14) was released on 14th January 2014 about The Early Release Scheme. Early release from service will become less common as the Army resumes normal manning policies (post redundancies and looking towards the new 2020 Structure).

This means that from 24 Jan 14, those personnel submitting their Notice To Terminate (NTT) or a request for Premature Voluntary Retirement (PVR) should expect to serve their full notice period. Previously applications for early release were routinely authorised due to the need to draw down the Army’s size as part of A2020. This change in approach reflects a return to normal manning policy. Your chain of command will be able to advise on the criteria governing any decision. This change will not impact on any application for early release that has already been approved by APC. Personnel who have submitted and had their NTT approved by APC or had their application for PVR approved by the Army Retirement Board, before 24 Jan 14 will have any application for early release considered under previous arrangements. Personnel selected for redundancy who wish to be released early are to apply for the Redundancy Early Release (RER) scheme.

Please go to the DM(A) website on the Army Intranet for the full Brief.

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Survey on impact of refurbishments - the results

AFF has been contacted by several families regarding refurbishments on their Service Families Accommodation (SFA) and we therefore decided to conduct a survey looking at the wider impact that refurbishment projects have on families who have to live in SFA while the works are carried on around them. DIO/MHS routinely carry out refurbishments of SFA while families are still occupying them and this leads to severe disruption to the families. AFF welcomes the investment being made on SFA and recognises that these works need to be done to upgrade families’ accommodation; however, we feel that the issues facing the families during these works should be given more consideration. AFF has collated the results from the 141 responses and formulated some suggestions which we have forwarded on to DIO for comment.

AFF would like to see DIO and MHS undertake the following:

  • improve communications with the families
  • undertake a deep clean of those areas affected by contractors
  • identify the worst few days of a kitchen refurb and make a suitable allowance for meals
  • to look into the possibility of doing the majority of works on void stock (AFF realises that after the inception of NEM there will be fewer voids and families will have to have works done with them in situ however they will then see the long term benefits of the works).
  • AFF would also like families’ desires to be considered in relation to changes to cookers, and for DIO to look at the possibility of installing duel fuel ovens where appropriate.

JSP 464, part 4, already makes allowances for temporary downgrades to be made where there is a significant deficiency or reduction in amenities lasting between seven days and three months. AFF would like chain of command to instigate a policy which automatically downgrades any house undergoing a refurbishment for the duration of the entire works in the vicinity.

Click here for the full brief
Click here for the survey results

arrowFor details on all our surveys, polls, research papers and policy changes, please see the AFF in Action section.

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Update on DIO customer satisfaction survey

The initial results of the DIO customer satisfaction survey are now in and AFF is delighted to hear that there has been a good response from families – this is a fantastic way for DIO to hear how families really feel about the services they provide. 

Results from the first 3 months (about 600 families)

  • Overall, 74% of customers are satisfied, and 14% dissatisfied, with the service provided by DIO Service Delivery Accommodation and its contractors.
  • 83% of customers are satisfied, and 11% dissatisfied, with the rules that govern entitlement to SFA.
  • 78% of customers express satisfaction with the overall quality of their home, while 15% express dissatisfaction.
  • 87% of customers are satisfied, and 8% dissatisfied, with the SFA estate as place to live. Notably, this is the highest level of satisfaction and lowest level of dissatisfaction expressed for all of the eleven aspects rated in this survey.
  • 76% of customers are satisfied, and 15% dissatisfied, with the upkeep of communal areas.
  • 86% of customers are satisfied, and 10% dissatisfied, with the value for money that daily occupancy charges provide.
  • 77% of customers are satisfied, and 18% dissatisfied, with the arrangements for allocating SFA
  • 80% of customers are satisfied, and 14% dissatisfied, with the way the ‘Move In’ is dealt with
  • 62% of customers are satisfied, and 24% dissatisfied, with the way the contractor deals with repairs and maintenance issues. Notably, this is the highest level of dissatisfaction expressed for all of the eleven aspects rated in this survey.
  • 84% of customers are satisfied, and 12% dissatisfied, with the way the ‘Move Out’ is dealt with.
  • Only 57% of customers are satisfied, and 21% dissatisfied, that DIO Service Delivery Accommodation listens to views and acts upon them. Notably, this is the lowest level of satisfaction expressed for all of the eleven aspects rated in this survey.

arrowAFF view

The two interesting results so far are:

  1. The satisfaction rate for the way the contractor e.g. MHS deals with repairs etc. is much lower than MHS’ own published customer satisfaction rates. DIO and MHS will be looking into why there is a discrepancy between figures.
  2. The majority of families felt that DIO doesn’t listen to their views or act upon them. This survey is the start of DIO doing just that and these results enable DIO to delve deeper into issues to establish the root cause of them. The aim is to deliver an improved service. 

AFF will continue to monitor the results of the survey and will continue to work with DIO to ensure that families’ views are listened to and acted on. Please continue to answer the questions as honestly and as accurately as you can if you are contacted. 

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Employment Survey - Thank you for your views

The MOD’s Partner Employment Project was launched in April 2013 to look at the barriers to spouse and partner employment and to develop options papers to overcoming these barriers. AFF has been providing evidence, case studies and support to the Project. The two year project will look at a number of employment factors including: 

  • Partner training and education, together with placement and career development services
  • Access to national employment support, including interaction with national childcare initiatives
  • Employment support to partners during the Service person’s transition. 

The aim of the project is to improve the financial situation of families through a second income which will allow more families to increase their standards of living. Importantly, it will enable more families to realistically look at buying their own homes.

AFF is pleased to provide an update from the PEP team. This update is in response to the survey many of you completed over the summer on spouse underemployment and overseas employment. Click here for the update.

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New Employment Model Myth Buster

The current employment model dates back to the 1970s. Some aspects are still very good and need to be protected however, other aspects have failed to keep pace with the way in which our people live their lives in the 21st Century. The New Employment Model (NEM) will be designed to ensure a package of terms and conditions that are affordable, agile and attractive, keeping what works but getting rid of the more outdated aspects of the old package.

On a financial front, significantly discounted accommodation will remain a core part of the ‘offer’ to Service personnel and the Armed Forces Pension Scheme 15 will still be one of the best available anywhere. Our high standard of training and education, and the quality of our welfare support will also be retained.However, to keep pace with the aspirations of the young people we need to recruit in the future we also need to examine the impact of Service life on families and the ability for spouses and partners to pursue their own careers. 

In June the department launched a programme of consultation and engagement with Service personnel which will run until October. Feedback from the consultation will be used to shape the detailed policy development of the various components of the NEM. So far there has been a fantastic volume of responses to the online survey already and some extremely helpful feedback has been gathered during focus groups and interviews. But there has also been a number of commonly repeated misconceptions about some of the changes or perceived problems that the NEM will bring about and so this week we aim to address some of those myths.

Click here to download the Myths and comments.

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Voting: Good News!

A Parliamentary Bill has been passed which will make it easier for Service personnel and families living overseas to vote in elections. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 extends the timetable for UK Parliamentary elections from 17 working days to 25 working days. As part of this extension, it will be possible for ballot papers to be sent out earlier to postal voters before the poll closes, rather than the current 11 days. This will allow more time for voters to return their choice, ensuring that their vote is counted. Historically, the short period of time allowed to send and receive voting paperwork has meant that votes from those living overseas were not always received in time to be counted. The Government is planning to commence the provisions in time for the scheduled elections in 2014 (which includes the 2014 European Parliamentary elections).

arrowNews that the electoral voting window has been extended to ensure that families and Service personnel living overseas will now be able to get their postal vote back to the ballot box in time is very welcome. AFF began working on this issue in 2009 with much encouragement from Devina Worsely, whose commitment to effecting this change must be noted in achieving our aim of re-enfranchising those on overseas assignments across the world.

Catherine Spencer, Chief Executive said:

AFF was disappointed when the parliamentary process left insufficient time to affect this change for the 2010 General Election so I am very pleased that this change has occurred in time for the next General Elections and encourage everybody to check now that they are registered to vote. Register at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

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