Veterans Commissioner says too many Service leavers are still ‘falling through the net’ when it comes to finding a home after serving their country

A new report launched today by the Scottish Veterans Commissioner has called for improvements to the housing support and provision for Service leavers in Scotland after finding that over half of Service leavers move on from Service without housing arrangements that fully meet their needs in place.

Titled ‘Positive Futures: Getting Transition Right in Scotland – Housing: Making a Home in Civilian Society’, the report is the second in the Commissioner’s Positive Futures series, which looks at improving outcomes for veterans by getting transition right.

The report explores the housing needs of Service leavers and makes four outcomes-focused recommendations to Government:

  • shoring up preparation and planning and making sure it starts early enough
  • helping leavers navigate housing information, advice and support that’s relevant to where they are planning to live
  • maximising the availability of appropriate, affordable homes
  • ensuring current work to prevent homelessness amongst veterans and service leavers is completed and implemented early.

Scottish Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace commented: “A roof over our heads and a safe and secure place to live, unsurprisingly would be top of most people’s list when it comes to having a positive destination in life, veteran or not. What makes it different for veterans and their families, is that in the Armed Forces, housing provision comes with the job.

“Service leavers have to deal with many elements when transitioning to civilian life as well as housing, such as securing employment and navigating health and welfare systems. This process can often be overwhelming and over half of Service leavers move on from Service without their housing needs having been fully sorted. Housing is a complex landscape for the uninitiated, and a shortage of affordable homes means some Service leavers will get into difficulties. Although the numbers are very low, some will experience homelessness, a few may end up rough sleeping and for greater numbers, although housed, their needs may not be fully met.”

“Some Service leavers, particularly those seeking social housing, may have unrealistic expectations. There are those who still believe that social housing is an automatic entitlement when you leave the Armed Forces; that it is cheap; that the process is the same across the UK and that social housing is abundant, providing a choice of where you can live.”

“We need to shore up prevention work and do more to help those transitioning navigate the civilian housing maze. With better preparation of Service leavers and a greater understanding of their needs and their unique circumstances by local authorities and housing associations, we can build on recent improvements and ensure that no one who has served their country experiences housing difficulties or homelessness.

“Better support now exists for the most vulnerable but I want to make sure that nobody ‘falls through the net’ because of a lack of preparedness or poor information, advice and support. All Service leavers and their families should be able to make a smooth transition and find somewhere to live that’s right for them, so that they can become part of a thriving civilian community and go on to secure more positive futures.”

34-year-old veteran Sam McGeachie was medically discharged at the end of last year after serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps since 2009. When it came to planning for life after Service, housing was her main concern. She said:

“As soon as I found out I was leaving, I started thinking about where I was going to stay and it was definitely my main stress. It wasn’t an option for me to stay with family, and I also had Keria, my companion dog to consider. A lot of rentals won’t allow pets so I was worried about finding somewhere that we both could stay. It was my first home outside the Army and I didn’t know where to start.

“My Personnel Recovery Officer (PRO) recommended I get in touch with Housing Options Scotland, who then put me in touch with Veterans Housing Scotland. I was put on the waiting list for one of six flats that were being built specially for veterans at a new development in East Lothian, and fortunately I was successful in getting one. I’ve settled in really well here with Keria – my flat is spacious and I feel safe here. I know a lot of people have to wait much longer to find a home after leaving, so I do feel really fortunate to have got somewhere sorted so quickly. Not having to worry about housing has allowed me to move forward with my life, and I’m looking forward to starting university and training to be a paramedic later in the year.”

Recommendations in full

1. Preparation and planning

Service leavers and veterans should be enabled to find somewhere to live that is right for them and equipped to make informed choices. Preparation and planning to make a home in civilian society is a crucial aspect of transition and as such needs to be part of the flexible and accessible transition model I have recommended.

It needs to:

  • start early, as an integrated part of the transition journey and be relevant to local level to the individual or family’s intended place of settlement
  • include better, more tailored and timely briefings, including equipping Army personnel in particular with Life skills training
  • support informed choice – especially when it comes to affordable housing – where preparation, such as having a deposit, can greatly enhance choice

2. Information, advice and support

Service leavers and veterans should have access to accurate, relevant and understandable information and to advice and support on housing options in Scotland which is offered in a timely and accessible way.

It needs:

  • a single entry point source of the most appropriate housing information, advice and support. Housing Options Scotland’s Military Matters should be put on a sustainable financial footing to provide that and resourced to provide a follow-up service to prevent those who may struggle to sustain their home
  • Scotland specific information and ‘reach-in’ briefings for those still serving. This needs to be provided by those who know and understand the Scottish housing system best
  • local authority and other front-line housing staff who are aware of the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant, who proactively ask whether clients have served and who are fully aware of the local authority’s allocations policy for Service leavers and veterans

3. Housing provision and supply

Service leavers can face multiple challenges when transitioning and finding a home is a challenge that is exacerbated by a lack of suitable affordable housing. They should be assisted in finding and sustaining a home in the civilian world.

This needs:

  • further action to encourage all social landlords to include ex-Service personnel as a priority group in their Allocations policies under the ‘Reasonable Preference Allocations Priority’ policy introduced in the Housing Scotland Act 2014
  • raising awareness of the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant and the particular challenges Service leavers face amongst housing allocations staff in local authorities and housing associations who should train and appoint ‘veterans aware’ team members
  • creative solutions to housing supply problems, one of which could be a Veterans Housing Alliance. This idea should be explored in full to provide veterans with a co-ordinated access route into support and a means of maximising the availability of appropriate and affordable housing

4. Homelessness

No one who has served their country should face homelessness or ever have to sleep rough. The homelessness prevention pathways approach for high risk groups is a tested way of addressing the issue and a specific Veterans’ Homelessness Prevention Pathway is needed to ensure every Service leaver and veteran has a safe place to call home.

This work should:

  • be completed and prioritised for early implementation
  • include action to address the issue of ‘delayed homelessness’ amongst veterans

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