Page last updated at 09:22 GMT, Wednesday, 28 November 2007

MoD housing cash paying the rent

Picture of barracks sent in by soldier
Pictures from barracks were sent in by soldiers

Forty per cent of the £5bn set aside to improve military housing will be spent on renting the buildings from a private landlord, the BBC has learned.

The Ministry of Defence has said the money would be spent on upgrading accommodation over the next 10 years.

But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show £2bn will be spent renting back premises sold off by the state in 1996.

The MoD said it was "contractually obliged" to pay the private landlord.

'Below market rate'

In July, Defence Secretary Des Browne said the MoD planned to spend the £5bn on "upgrading and maintaining" accommodation.

But the BBC freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed that property developer Annington Homes will receive almost £2bn of that sum.

The Conservative government sold most of the defence housing stock to Annington in 1996 for £1.6bn.

The Ministry of Defence recognises that good quality housing is a fundamental part of the welfare package we give to our Armed Forces personnel and their families
Ministry of Defence statement

The Ministry of Defence said, in response to the BBC's request: "This deal [with Annington] means that the MoD is contractually obliged to pay rent on the homes occupied by service families.

"This equates to an average monthly rent of £300 - substantially less than if the MoD was paying the open market rent for similar properties."

The ministry said about 60% of the Annington homes "are now of the highest standard for condition, which has increased from 40% in 2001".

It acknowledged that there were "problem areas" with some accommodation, but said the "MoD recognises that good quality housing is a fundamental part of the welfare package we give to our Armed Forces personnel and their families".

The Army Families Federation said the sell-off had led to an under-investment in homes for service personnel and their families.

'Community feel'

Chief executive Julie McCarthy told BBC Radio 5 Live it was important to have good quality accommodation to compensate families for the frequent moves they were required to make.

Ms McCarthy, who has moved nine times in 14 years with her husband, said: "It's really important that we have a community feel.

"When you're asking these guys to go out to Afghanistan and Iraq - in a worst-case scenario they are giving their lives - it's very important that the families are in a community together with people who understand what they are going through, who can help with their children and who can talk through things."

Inside accommodation at Bicester barracks in Oxfordshire
Gary Durban sent this picture of his family's accommodation

She said the fact that the average monthly rent was £300 - below the market rate - "does not give them [the Ministry of Defence] an excuse to offer sub-standard accommodation when some of these guys and ladies are giving their lives".

The news comes after more than 400,000 calls were made to a helpline last year complaining about forces accommodation.

BBC correspondent Angus Crawford said some observers described conditions as a national scandal.

In January, BBC News published photographs sent in by soldiers of their accommodation, depicting blocked urinals, uncollected rubbish and peeling floors.

Recently a committee of MPs reported that although there had been some improvements, much accommodation was still unacceptable and this was having an effect on morale.

In April 2006, the MoD also signed an £8bn Private Finance Initiative deal to upgrade accommodation for single soldiers.

The 35-year contract will see the rebuilding and refurbishment of barrack blocks at six sites in England and Wales.

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