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Social Housing

Volume 461: debated on Monday 18 June 2007

8. If he will take steps to improve the opportunities for retiring service personnel to access secure social housing. (142916)

Officials at the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Communities and Local Government continue to work together to ensure that servicemen and women are fairly treated in terms of access to social housing, and we hope to make an announcement about that in due course.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. A constituent of mine, however, who had served his country in Afghanistan, was uncertain of being able to get social housing when he left the Royal Marines, and for a time was warned that he might have to take his family into a hostel. Does the Minister agree that that is unacceptable? Will he consider reviewing the tri-service regulations, so as to recognise the debt of honour that society owes to members of our armed forces, and to give them priority access to social housing to avoid such problems?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. We are hoping to make an announcement in due course about that issue, which he mentions in a local connection. A joint housing advice office helps service personnel and their families, and there are various projects around the country that work with ex-service personnel, including Compass in London, the Single Persons Accommodation Centre for the Ex-Services in Catterick, and Galleries in North Yorkshire. Help with housing is part of the leaving package for service personnel, and the key worker scheme is also available. I urge Members of Parliament to help by contacting their local authorities to see what priority they give to service personnel.

Will my hon. Friend inform the House what assistance is given to service personnel, and retired service personnel, to purchase their own homes?

One of the announcements made last year was on the key worker scheme in London and the south-east, which is an important step forward for service personnel. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have committed ourselves to considering what more can be done to help service personnel to buy, or buy equity in, a home. The strategic remuneration review is also considering how armed forces personnel can get into the housing market.

One excellent organisation that helps our servicemen when they leave the armed forces is the Royal British Legion. Sadly, it does not get information from Her Majesty’s armed forces when servicemen leave. Is there any way to increase communication with the Royal British Legion so that it knows when servicemen are leaving, as it did when I left, and can help them with benefits and housing when they arrive?

We are working with five key charities to provide information about service leavers, and we want to do more. Recently, a welfare conference, which involved all the service charities, the single services, the Ministry of Defence and others, considered how best to fill the gaps for service leavers. Our resettlement package is widely renowned for its excellence and provides a significant amount of advice. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we work closely with service charities, and are considering what more we can do to improve the help and support that he rightly highlights.

We should not provide only social housing to our ex-service personnel. Veterans day is next week, and on Sunday I shall hand out 70 badges to armed forces veterans who served as recently as 1984. One of those veterans flew 32 bombing missions to Germany, and ended up as Field Marshall Montgomery’s driver. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want to pay tribute to those veterans. Can he tell us how many badges have been handed out by his Department, and what it is doing to publicise that wonderful initiative?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s constituents, to the particular constituent he mentions, who is clearly a remarkable man, and to veterans as a whole, who are remarkable people who contribute greatly to society and their communities. Veterans day is therefore important, as it recognises their contribution. We have now handed out more than 400,000 veterans badges, and we expect 500,000 to have been presented by late autumn—

I welcome the engagement of Defence Ministers with Housing Ministers to address the issues. Will the Minister stress to Housing Ministers the need to look at some of the anomalies in legislation, in particular the Housing Act 1996, whereby an armed forces family with children who are happily settled in a school and a spouse who is working in the community are not deemed to have a local connection simply because they were posted there? Local authorities cannot even begin to plan to provide accommodation for armed forces families while they are still in accommodation, and they could spend anything up to a couple of years in temporary accommodation. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is not the best start for our armed servicemen when they begin their civilian life.

We have been talking to colleagues in the DCLG about that very issue of the local connection. I assure the hon. Gentleman that when we are in a position to do so, we will make an announcement.

When I left school, we either went into the collieries, the textile industry or the Army. Surely the least that we can expect for our armed forces when they come back is a housing policy in every county, as there is in Midlothian, which gives them priority. It is accepted in the community, and it always has been, that they get priority.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point. As I said, we are looking at the local connection. Members of Parliament can do a good job on behalf of the armed forces by checking whether local authorities give priority and help to ex-service personnel and their families.