Military personnel “resign” over housing rules

  • Written by Jonathan Bell
  • Defense correspondent, BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Military officers and senior soldiers said they would withdraw from the army in large numbers due to new residency rules.

Currently, military personnel are entitled to subsidized housing based on their rank, but the Department of Defense wants to change the rules to focus on the needs of families.

The plan could mean that many officers would lose their right to larger housing.

It is feared that the army recruitment and retention crisis will worsen if the new plans are implemented.

The BBC obtained testimonies from more than 20 officers and their partners, in reference to the growing protest against the new policy.

One said: “Checking out before Christmas and changes to the family accommodation service was one of the factors that affected us as a childless couple.”

Dozens said they were ready to “walk out the door.”

More than 300 officers participated in a social media poll, with 78% of them saying they would be willing to leave if their residency eligibility was reduced.

An online petition calling for a review of the policy has already received 18,000 signatures.

The Department of Defense will launch the New Accommodation Offer (NAO) for military personnel in March.

Under the new offer, a married student with no children will be entitled to a two-bedroom property instead of a three or four-bedroom house – leaving them with around 38% less space.

Rosie Bucknall, wife of one of the pioneers, said it seemed like a great initiative in theory, “but in practice it adds more stress and uncertainty to families who are constantly on the move.”

She and her husband currently live in a three-bedroom military house, but under the new rules, they are entitled to a two-bedroom apartment.

Many officers and their families see this as removing one of the last remaining privileges to deal with the unpredictability of tenure – which sees many posted to different locations every few years.

Most of the testimony obtained by the BBC was given anonymously. “Based on the new residency model, we decided that remaining on duty was no longer a tenable position for us,” one of the presenters said.

Another presenter said: “I've been thinking about leaving since this policy was announced. It's removing another feature, and the positives no longer outweigh the negatives.”

“I can't imagine a single policy better positioned to drive outstanding officers out of the service and tear out the heart of the organization,” an Army captain said.

He added that he intends to resign within the next two years, saying: “Anecdotally, most of my colleagues are now also planning to leave on different but similar timetables.”

Among those affected are many experienced soldiers who were commissioned as officers after being promoted through the ranks.

He said many of his group are now also considering leaving the army.

Several officers and their wives said the new residency policy would also have a devastating impact on family life, with adult children no longer able to return to a place they call home.

One officer said: “I have a boy and a girl who are just over 18. Knowing that I will be allocated a three-bedroom house means we can still have a family home. This policy changes that.”

Another officer's wife said that this policy would make life more difficult, as they have children with special needs and need extra space, as parents often visit them for help.

The National Review Office “will make sentencing fairer by allocating accommodations based on need, not just rank and recognition of long-term relationships,” the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

The MoD said the new rules would also allow soldiers to access the private rental market as an alternative, but in practice any private landlord would have to agree to the MoD's strict conditions to terminate the lease at short notice. She also said that there would be a three-year transition period, during which no one would be left worse off.

But the main problem was a lack of suitable military accommodation, and there was growing dissatisfaction with the state of military housing.

Ms Bucknall said the MoD's decision to commit to meeting the surge in demand, without making changes to the supply of homes, was “insanity”.

Some families live in damp, poorly maintained military neighborhoods.

For many, this latest policy is the straw that breaks the camel's back. “The negative impact on our family is now too much, and it is unfortunate that this will lead us to consider leaving the military,” another officer wrote.

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