I am determined to help current and former members of the armed forces gain the housing they deserve. I have given service personnel priority for the Government’s affordable home ownership schemes, including Firstbuy, and on Friday last week I issued new statutory guidance to make it easier for service personnel to get access to affordable homes for rent.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to explain to the House that that new guidance makes it clear to his and every other local authority that this nonsense of people returning, often without a base back in this country because of the amount of time they have served overseas, and then not being able to apply for housing in their area because of some trumped-up allegation that they have no locality—in other words, that they do not have a residency requirement —is to end. That is what the guidance makes absolutely clear.
I have a constituent in the village of Belton, Mrs Kirsty Pett, who is a mother of four and has served in the armed forces, whose husband, a former Warrant Officer, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident last year. She is currently on the council housing list and has been given medium priority, but she will lose her privately rented home in the very near future. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Mrs Pett’s family, and indeed widows and children of all armed forces personnel, will benefit from the new changes to enable her to remain resident in her home village?
My hon. Friend raises an important point: when Army personnel return, that is one thing, but when they do not and their spouses are left to pick up the pieces, that is when this country owes them a real debt of gratitude. In the new statutory guidance, which was issued on Friday, I have ensured that the bereaved spouses of those who are serving and of reservists get top priority.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reassuring earlier answer, which indicated that the Government are taking action to support veterans who have made sacrifices to defend our liberty. Many councils in the UK will be giving priority to former armed forces personnel who have urgent housing needs. Will he join me in calling on City of Lincoln council and North Kesteven district council in my constituency to follow suit?
Yes, absolutely. In drawing up the criteria, we have made sure that councils need to provide that additional guarantee to those service personnel for some years after they leave the armed forces, so the residency criterion, for example, will not be placed against them for up to five years.
The whole House will welcome the new guidance to councils, particularly as it relates to social housing. The Minister alluded to support for those who wish to purchase their own home, and many people in my constituency of Castle Point would like to get on the housing ladder. Will he give me more information on what support there is for that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, when many people come back from military service they want to start on the housing ladder by purchasing a home. I have extended the Firstbuy scheme by ensuring that a high preference is given to those people. In addition, we have sent personnel out to bases both in the UK and abroad to ensure that Army personnel know that they can apply to the Firstbuy scheme, for example, and hundreds have done so.