Whitehall slammed for spending £52m on military ‘rent-a-homes’

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WHITEHALL has been slammed for splashing out millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash on costly military ‘rent-a-homes’ for forces personnel.

An investigation by The News has revealed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has forked out almost £53m to rent out homes for troops.

The cash is used to pay for substitute single service accommodation (SSSA) – homes used for troops when there is no space left near their military bases.

During 2016/17 the MoD admitted it spent £52,837,006.16 on the scheme; no figures were available for the last financial year.

While in Hampshire, about £1.6m was spent since 2016 to put up service personnel in rental properties – despite new barracks having been created.

Military campaigners have been left gobsmacked by amount spent on the properties nationwide, which they feel could be put to better use.

Instead they would like to see more investment in creating additional purpose-built military homes closer to bases as well as improving the state of the current military housing stock, which families have previously branded ‘sickening’.

The revelation comes as the MoD battles to fill a £20bn black hole in its budget.

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, was shocked at the news and said The News’s investigation ‘confirmed what he had been told’ by forces personnel about the current state of military accommodation.

‘The Tories’ disastrous mishandling of military housing isn’t just an insult to Portsmouth’s serving families, it’s a shameful waste of money at a time when the defence budget is being shrunk beyond recognition,’ he said. ‘Instead of wasting millions on rental properties and private contractors, the government should get their act together and do right by our armed forces by ensuring they have accommodation fit for purpose.

‘Many of those fighting for our country are finding their homes falling into disrepair on the government’s watch. It’s simply unacceptable, and little wonder recruitment and retention is falling when the government is providing woefully substandard housing for our brave men and women.’

Details revealed to The News through a Freedom of Information request showed that in the past two years 8,379 people within the military needed to use SSSA.

While the MoD was forced to rent out 3,792 properties to accommodate the troops.

In Hampshire, a total of 176 personnel needed to use SSSA during the same period, with 104 properties being rented at a cost of £999,877.59 in 2016/17 and £648,968.36 in 2017/18.

The news comes as the MoD continues to sell of military estate across the UK and following previous complaints by service families over the quality of housing provided to them.

Retired Royal Navy Commander Graham Edmunds, vice-chairman of the UK National Defence Association, a Portsmouth-based campaign group battling to improve standards for the nation’s service personnel, said: ‘The issue, it seems to me, is that once the housing stock was sold off the MoD did not seem to retain any oversight nor ensure that local government did not impose any regulation such as ‘affordable’ housing if aged and crumbling married quarters were demolished to make way for new build.

‘I suspect MoD civil servants were pretty casual about the whole thing, believing that a long running sore with the military would be off their hands.  MoD civil servants don’t necessarily see their job as supporting the military – more they view it as controlling the military and protecting their ministers.  I guess the ongoing debacle with housing exemplifies that problem.’

One Sergeant in the British Army, who asked not to be named, but who lives in Waterlooville, said: ‘The whole situation is a joke. The government is wasting so much money on this its unreal. That’s cash that should be used to improve accommodation.’

The MoD said substitute accommodation is only used when single living accommodation is not available within 10 miles or 45 minutes on public transport from their duty station.

The accommodation is offered depending on rank, with junior personnel being expected to share properties with others.

An MoD spokesman said: ‘Substitute accommodation is only used when necessary, where an individual’s accommodation needs cannot be met through typical means.’