New research published today [8th December] highlights the challenges Service leavers face accessing and sustaining housing after leaving the Armed Forces, despite improvements made in recent years.
Led by University of Stirling housing expert Dr Steve Rolfe and funded by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), the research found that steps taken over the last decade to improve housing outcomes for ex-Service personnel have had a positive impact, but some people still face challenges and action is needed to ensure that progress continues.
Although ex-Service personnel are no more likely to be homeless than the wider population, some still face significant housing difficulties and can struggle to access the right support through the systems in place. Aside from supply and demand problems affecting the UK housing sector more widely, barriers facing ex-Service personnel include the complexity of the housing and benefits systems, which Service leavers with little experience of civilian life can struggle with, and debt causing issues with financial assessments for rental housing for those who have not saved for post-service life.
Some groups were identified as being likely to face additional persistent barriers, such as early Service leavers. Particular challenges were also highlighted for non-UK service leavers, who must wait for immigration status to be settled before housing applications can be submitted.
The Armed Forces Covenant – introduced in 2011 to support the Armed Forces community to have the same access to government and commercial services as the public - was found to have had a positive impact, with organisations working more effectively at a local level due to the implementation of Armed Forces Champions, Covenant Groups and dedicated posts. This was commended as particularly impressive given local authority budget cuts during the same period.
Dr Steve Rolfe, who is based in the University of Stirling’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said: “Our research illustrates that significant improvements have been made over the last decade – with organisations working better together, despite the impact of austerity, and delivering positive housing outcomes for ex-Service personnel.
“This is a reflection of the commitment and efforts of the public and third sector bodies to meet the needs of veterans.”
Recommendations in the report focus on continuing improvements to support transition to civilian life which have been seen in recent years, tackling the persistent barriers identified for groups such as early Service leavers and non-UK Service leavers, and maintaining progress in collaboration between local, national and charitable organisations which support ex-Service personnel.
The researchers also noted that the benefits from increased collaborative working could be lost as public attention moves away from the Armed Forces Covenant, and continual attention is required at a local and national level to ensure the innovations of the past decade continue.
Dr Rolfe added: “We must ensure that this good work continues and delivering on the recommendations from our report will reduce the number of vulnerable Service leavers who struggle to navigate the civilian housing system.”
The report, ‘Working together to meet the housing needs of ex-Service personnel: Examining the challenges of transition and collaboration’, was based on case studies and interviews with organisations and ex-Service personnel in England, Scotland and Wales.
Ray Lock CBE, Chief Executive of FiMT, said: “Housing is one of the most important factors for a Service leaver and their family, yet over half leave without their housing needs being ‘sorted’.
"This report is encouraging, demonstrating that the Armed Forces Covenant is having an impact and improvements are being seen. However, persistent issues still exist, particularly for the more vulnerable groups identified by the researchers, and these must now be addressed. Collaboration between organisations supporting Service leavers must continue to improve, along with better education of Service leavers about civilian life. And now we know who those most likely to face challenges are, we can identify them early, and take preventative action.”