A report in the Daily Telegraph says that as part of the new military covenant, the Prime Minister is to change the law (in England) "in an attempt to show he is recognising the sacrifices of those who risk their lives for their country". This follows initiatives by a number of local authorities. The Telegraph story continues:
The Daily Telegraph understands that ministers will order local authorities to give the highest possible priority to returning servicemen and women. Ministers have expressed irritation at the way the Human Rights Act and concerns about positive discrimination have thwarted past attempts to allow them to jump the housing queue.
Currently, local authorities dealing with social housing applications are only obliged to give “reasonable preference” to certain groups of people, such as those who are homeless, living in overcrowded accommodation or have a medical need.
On top of that they can give “additional preference” to people in the reasonable preference category who have additional urgent housing needs. Members of the Armed Forces are not automatically included in the higher priority groupings and they often return from an overseas conflict and are unable to find a home after being discharged.
Service personnel are also disadvantaged if they try to find a home in an area other than the place where they were discharged.
Grant Shapps, the housing minister, hopes that, after a consultation process, he can legislate to ensure that councils are forced to put ex-service personnel in the high priority “additional preference” category when they allocate housing.
The proposal is a key part of the military covenant that will be enshrined in law by the Coalition.
No 10 is said to be confident that the housing proposal will answer critics who have suggested that covenant is full of fine sentiments, but short on specific help.
Last night Mr Shapps said: “I think it’s only right that when you’ve put your life on the line for this country, out there fighting in a war zone, you should receive a hero’s welcome when you return home.
“Sadly, all too often, there is no house to come back to and that’s why we’re absolutely determined to place those who have been brave enough to put their lives on the line at the front of the housing queue.”
Downing Street is known to have become annoyed at the intransigence shown by some Ministry of Defence ministers and officials in pursuing a better deal on housing.
One MoD minister said that the department’s lawyers had given warning about the threat of breaching the Human Rights Act if it attempted to pass laws allowing ex-servicemen and women to jump the housing queue.
Birmingham and Barnet councils will be held up as examples where councils are already trying to put troops first. Earlier this year, Birmingham council said it was building new homes exclusively for injured ex-servicemen and women.
In Barnet, returning troops will find it easier to get social housing after the council announced it was changing its allocation policy. Those who have lived in Barnet for six months before enlisting will be given special status which will push them up the housing waiting list.
- Source story, by Andrew Porter, Political Editor: Returning troops to jump the housing queue