Support for Armed Forces Veterans in Wales - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents


3  Assisting veterans in civilian life

26.  The majority of service personnel who leave the Armed Forces settle well into new civilian lifestyles, moving to their new homes and new jobs. However for some, the transition to civilian life can be a challenging prospect. In this Chapter we examine several issues that could have an impact on how veterans settle into civilian life upon leaving the Armed Forces: access to information; housing allocation; and the disabled facilities grant. We examine NHS care separately in Chapter 4.

Access to information

27.  Once ex-service personnel return to civilian life, they may need assistance with a range of services, from advice about their pension to accessing public services, such as housing, education and health. Some veterans are eligible for support for up to two years as part of the MoD's resettlement programme, but this is primarily focussed on career and employment opportunities. We heard evidence that veterans could face "a confusing"[24] picture in trying to acquire information about the various services available to them. Rt Hon Elfyn Llwyd MP believed that services should be "properly signposted" to veterans.[25]

28.  Several witnesses told us that there needed to be better communication and co-ordination between the various agencies providing support to veterans, such as local authorities, NHS health boards and housing authorities. Councillor Brendan Toomey, Leader of Merthyr County Borough Council, and WLGA spokesperson for Community Safety, Policing and Fire, agreed that there was a current lack of communication on the ground between the various agencies and Armed Forces personnel. Mark Lovatt, Manager of the Blind Veterans UK Llandudno Centre, said there was a need to "let ex-servicemen know what services are available, from whom, when and where".[26]

29.  The Scottish Government have attempted to address these problems in Scotland by establishing a 'one-stop-shop' for veterans, which provides advice on a range of social issues such as housing, finances and employment. Veterans First Point (V1P) in Edinburgh is funded by the Scottish Government and NHS Lothian, and has a budget of about £260,000 a year.[27] A feature of V1P is the decision to recruit, as far as possible, staff members who are ex-service personnel. A second unique feature is that V1P can routinely access, with permission, clients' service records. The Scottish Government told us that they were investigating extending the service across Scotland: "we will probably [...] commit to launching one or two further such services over the next three years".[28]

30.  Many witnesses, such as Welsh Warrior (The Richard Hunt Foundation), favoured the establishment of a similar scheme in Wales. They argued that it would provide a single point of contact for veterans to receive information and assistance. When questioned on this point, Carl Sargeant AM, the Welsh Government Minister responsible for veterans' services, said he welcomed the idea. He said that the Welsh Government intended to set up a Task and Finish Group to explore the possibility of a similar arrangement in Wales.[29]

31.  We are concerned that some veterans struggle to obtain information about the services available to them upon returning to civilian life. We believe that the most effective way to provide them with information and assistance would be through a network of 'one stop shops' across Wales, broadly similar to the Scottish model.

32.  We recommend that the Welsh Government take forward proposals to establish a network of 'one-stop shops' for veterans across Wales.

Housing

33.  Moving from place to place is part of the job for members of the Armed Forces and, as such, the rate of home ownership is lower among service personnel than the national average. A 2006 MoD survey found that only 30% of regular soldiers in the Armed Forces owned their own home.[30] On leaving the Armed Forces, not all personnel want to purchase property or are able to do so. These individuals may therefore require social housing.

34.  Local authorities in Wales are responsible for forming their own policies and procedures for the allocation of social housing.[31] Under UK Government legislation,[32] local authorities have the power to frame their allocation schemes to prioritise particular descriptions of people who fall within the 'reasonable preference' categories. The Welsh Government's 2012 Code of Guidance for Local Authorities[33] includes among those whom a local authority should consider prioritising within their allocation schemes:

  • Any applicant who needs to move to suitable adapted accommodation because of a serious injury, medical condition or disability which he or she, or a member of their household, has sustained as a result of service in the Armed Forces:
  • People needing accommodation as a result of leaving the Armed Forces and the loss of military accommodation.

35.  Many witnesses spoke about the difficulties that ex-service personnel had in accessing social housing in Wales. SSAFA commented that Welsh Government priorities were not being acted upon by local authorities across Wales:

… the Welsh Government […] is saying that there should be a system whereby ex-servicemen can come in and not at the bottom of a list. But whether that has got down to every local authority, we are not certain.[34]

36.  Mrs Hunt stated that the inadequate support available to ex-servicemen could have serious consequences:

Single guys have often ended up homeless, sleeping in their cars or sleeping rough because local housing is not available, despite Government promises of them going to the head of the waiting list.[35]

37.  We were told that local authorities often applied a 'local connection' rule to determine priority status for social housing—that is, somebody needed to be resident in the area for several years to receive priority status. Major General Cumming, Controller at SSAFA, said that the policy was applied inconsistently across local authorities in Wales and often disadvantaged Armed Forces personnel when seeking housing:

There is still a demand, I think in Pembrokeshire, that you should have been resident in Pembrokeshire for three years and in Anglesey five—although it might be the other way round [...] servicemen have been excluded from housing in Anglesey and Pembrokeshire on those grounds, that they have not been resident for long enough.[36]

38.  Keith Brown MSP, the Scottish Government Minister responsible for veterans' services, described how the Scottish Government had attempted to address the 'local connection' problem:

… we have encouraged the local authorities who have responsibility in this area to award points for the period for which somebody has served. Beyond that, it is often the case that you have to prove a local connection to improve your housing position on the list, and we said that that shouldn't happen. Service personnel should not have to prove a local connection; you should get that advantage right away. So that is the way we have tried to tackle the idea that by serving your country overseas you have missed out on something that you shouldn't have.[37]

39.  The Welsh Government Minister recognised that good housing provided veterans with a "good state of mind and wellbeing".[38] He recognised that there were inconsistent housing policies applied towards veterans across local authorities in Wales: "It is a very complicated picture in terms of local authorities and their ability to decide who should be priority listed",[39] partly determined by the supply of local housing held by each local authority. He suggested that the Welsh Government may use legislation to strengthen the ability of veterans to access local housing.[40]

40.  Witnesses unfavourably compared the difficulties that veterans faced in accessing social housing with those faced by ex-prisoners and asylum seekers. Welsh Warrior (The Richard Hunt Foundation) commented on the support that ex-prisoners received with regards to housing:

When a convicted criminal is coming to the end of a prison sentence it is the duty of the prison system to ensure that part of the discharge process is to make certain that they have accommodation on discharge. What do we do for our personnel— Nothing![41]

Asylum seekers are provided with housing by the United Kingdom Border Agency. Naomi Alleyne from the Welsh Local Government Association told us that those seeking asylum would be housed immediately in temporary accommodation while their case was being considered as "part of the support that is provided for asylum seekers".[42] Accommodation is also provided to failed asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute where there is a temporary barrier preventing them from leaving the UK.[43]

41.  The mobility requirements of a career in the Armed Forces can be a real disadvantage for personnel trying to access social housing, because of local authorities' requirements for a 'local connection.' This is a serious concern and more priority should be given to those who have put their lives on the line for this country. We recommend that local authorities in Wales follow the guidance set out in UK legislation and the Welsh Government's Code of Practice to ensure that veterans are prioritised in the allocation of social housing.

42.  We encourage the Welsh Government to use the opportunity of its Housing White Paper to consult on the option of legislating to ensure veterans receive priority access to social housing in Wales.

Disabled Facilities Grant

43.  Local authorities have a responsibility to provide Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) to those disabled veterans, who lack sufficient means to provide for adaptations to their homes. These grants pay for adaptations to homes to help people with a disability live independently, and include items such as stair lifts, walk-in showers, bath lifts or kitchen adaptations. In 2010-2011, Welsh local authorities spent £35 million on DFGs.

44.  Local authorities must provide a decision on DFG funding within six months of receiving a full application. Legislation sets out no priority groups when deciding which houses have adaptations fitted first. Major General Cumming highlighted the long delay faced by many veterans for adaptations in their homes, stating that some veterans faced a wait of 18 months to two years for stair lifts to be fitted.[44] The Royal British Legion said that, as a result of delay, many veterans were "reduced to sleeping in the living room and/or strip washing at the sink".[45]

45.  The Royal British Legion told us that veterans were often turning to charities to fund adaptations to their homes and that local authorities saw charitable contributions "as an easy route to save funding".[46] Major General Cumming agreed and stated that:

... it is [...] an area where local authorities know that the charities will step in rather than make the person suffer.[47]

Help for Heroes told us that it had spent "several million pounds so far" on home adaptations due to delays by local authorities.[48]

46.  The Welsh Government Minister stated that the current variation by local authorities in DFG support and implementation was unacceptable.[49] The Welsh Government was examining ways to improve the situation including providing a financial incentive to local authorities to improve their performance. It was also looking at opportunities for collaboration between local authorities in order to deliver a better level of service.[50]

47.  It is unacceptable that disabled veterans face long delays for house adaptations with the consequent damage on their standard of living and their wellbeing as they learn to live with long-term injury. The Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association must examine the reasons for delays in the administration of the Disabled Facilities Grant and take appropriate measures to speed up the process. Examples of best practice across Wales should be identified and disseminated to all local authorities in Wales.

Veterans Data

48.  A common theme throughout our inquiry has been that the lack of available data about both the number and location of veterans was a barrier to effective provision of services for veterans. For instance, local authorities may not frame their allocation policies to give preference to veterans on their social housing lists if they are unaware of the number of veterans living in their area. Similarly, establishing a network of 'one-stop shops' across Wales will be difficult without data of this kind. One suggested solution was that people should be asked to declare if they had served with the Armed Forces when registering with a GP.[51]

49.  We were told that service personnel were often unwilling or found it unnecessary to make authorities aware of their status. Mrs Hunt from Welsh Warrior (The Richard Hunt Foundation) commented that:

... By their very nature, ex-servicemen and women are very proud people and have been taught to be very resilient in their own right. It is not just the old-age people who have pride and do not want any help, but it is some of the younger ones too. They will battle on and try to do what they think is doing their best.[52]

50.  When questioned on this matter, the Veterans Minister said that the MoD held no definitive list of veterans and their location, and that establishing one would be "quite expensive and very labour-intensive".[53] Instead the MoD had a number of databases related to specific benefits, such as compensation payments due to injury.[54]

51.  Developing a historic database of all veterans residing in the UK would be expensive and the benefits would not justify the cost. But there would be advantages if local authorities and the Welsh Government had better data on the number and location of veterans in Wales to assist in policy development. We recommend that the MoD investigate which data could potentially be collected and made available to devolved administration and local authorities within the current legislation. In particular the MoD should improve its system for registering all future leavers.

52.  We encourage Armed Forces veterans based in Wales to identify themselves as they use public services. This information will enable the Welsh Government and local authorities to develop policies and target resources to benefit veterans and their families in future.









24   Q 143 Back

25   Ev 127 Back

26   Q 44 Back

27   The Ministry of Defence provided £50,000 to establish Veterans First Point. Back

28   Q 230 Back

29   Q 367 Back

30   Families' Continuous Attitude Surveys (FCAS) 2006 Back

31   Housing Act 1996 Back

32   s.167(2), 1996 Housing Act Back

33   Code of Guidance for Local Authorities on Allocation of Accommodation and Homelessness, Welsh Government, 13 August 2012. Back

34   Q 187 Back

35   Ev 114 Back

36   Q 187 Back

37   Q 225 Back

38   Q 388 Back

39   Q 396 Back

40   Q 367- Housing White Paper 2012 Back

41   Ev 115 Back

42   Q 401 Back

43   Section 4, Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Back

44   Q 181 Back

45   Ev 111 Back

46   Q 23 Back

47   Q 181 Back

48   Q 171 Back

49   Q 395 Back

50   Q 395 Back

51   Q 107 Back

52   Q 335 Back

53   Q 408 Back

54   Q 408 Back


 
previous page contents next page


© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 12 February 2013