Page last updated at 16:57 GMT, Friday, 13 November 2009

MoD spends millions on rent bills

Soldiers in training
Housing is rented when military accommodation is unavailable

The Ministry of Defence spends £5.6m a month on rented private sector accommodation for members of the armed forces, it has been revealed.

This is despite thousands of MoD properties lying empty.

The bill was disclosed in response to a Parliamentary question from the Liberal Democrats, who called it a "shameful" waste of money.

The MoD said it provides rented housing where shortages exist but was working to make more military homes available.

A spokesman said: "The Armed Forces population is extremely mobile and this can lead to shortages of MoD-owned accommodation of the right size in the right location.

"When this occurs, privately rented accommodation is provided for service personnel and their families.

"We are working hard to ensure we have the right amount of houses in the right locations by driving down the number of voids and completing refurbishments."

The figures obtained by Lib Dem defence spokesman Willie Rennie showed the monthly bill for substitute family accommodation was £1,821,172 a month, with £3,768,532 a month being spent renting homes for single personnel.

Mr Rennie said that a breakdown of the figures by area showed property was having to be found in areas such as Colchester, which was the site of a permanent military base.

"This is yet another shameful example of the MoD wasting money at a time when our troops are still suffering equipment shortages on the front line," he said.

"It is hard to believe that the government is throwing millions of pounds a month at rentals despite having thousands of empty properties on its hands.

"[Defence Secretary] Bob Ainsworth must explain whether this vast expense is due to mismanagement or the shameful condition of the properties the MoD already holds."

Above target

The MoD's own policy document said that renting is "an expensive option costing up to 10 times as much" as in-house housing.

"It is therefore incumbent on all parties to ensure that SSFA [substitute single family accommodation] is fully justified in all cases," it said.

The MoD has 50,000 properties in the UK but a public spending watchdog has demanded action after discovering 17% - 8,500 - were empty, far above the target level of 10%.

The cross-party Commons Public Accounts Committee said about £2m could be saved for every percentage point that rate was reduced by.

The committee has also branded the standard of service accommodation "disgraceful", after a third of military families rated the condition of their homes as poor.

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