Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, reported today that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) does well to manage the difficult job of having housing available for Service personnel and their families when posted overseas. However, it needs to adopt a greater customer focus in its delivery of housing services overseas. It also needs to introduce greater consistency and professionalism in the service it provides.
The MoD keeps almost 18,000 properties overseas to accommodate military personnel and their families. Families’ satisfaction with their housing impinges on the military’s operational effectiveness as morale can be affected if families are unhappy with their accommodation. The MoD is meeting its objectives of moving people into these homes as required by the Armed Forces, and around two-thirds of occupants are satisfied with the housing service and their accommodation. This is on a par with the satisfaction rates achieved by Inner London boroughs but below the averages achieved by social housing providers and local authorities in England as a whole, although the provision of accommodation to Service families overseas differs in many respects from the provision of social housing in the United Kingdom. There are also examples of good practice. For example, before families arrive in Episkopi in Cyprus, they receive an “estate agent’s description” of the property they have been allocated, complete with a picture of a house of that type and room layout plans.
A survey of overseas families, conducted on our behalf by Market Research UK, revealed that 67 per cent of occupants were satisfied with the repairs service, this service is not customer friendly in all locations. For example, at Akrotiri in Cyprus a family member has to visit housing staff in person to report a fault needing repair. There were also complaints about the quality of the work carried out. Only 24 per cent of occupants were satisfied with the opportunities for their involvement in the delivery of the housing service.
There is little scope for occupants to exercise choice. The MoD is only able to offer families one property for occupation at each overseas location. Although families can express a preference as to where at their duty station they want to be housed, the MoD does not measure the extent to which it meets these preferences. Complaints are not always handled well. Almost half of occupants did not know how to make complaints and those who had made complaints were unhappy with many aspects of their handling.
There were many examples of variations in local practices and standards both between and within countries. The management structure for delivering housing services overseas is complex and unclear, while the allocation of properties to families lacks transparency. Almost all housing officials overseas are ex-military personnel with little previous experience in housing management. They are used to a military culture and receive little specialist training in housing management.
The MoD’s monitoring of its performance overseas focuses only on its management of the estate, with no monitoring of the quality of its housing service to families. There is limited awareness among housing staff of the need to set targets, measure performance and use this information to improve the service. There is little systematic sharing of good practice amongst housing staff and the MoD has carried out little comparison of the performance of its overseas housing service with that of other housing providers elsewhere. In the opinion of our consultants, Housing Quality Network Services, if the MoD were a civilian housing provider, its housing services overseas would rate as poor. The MoD has acknowledged the need to examine the management of these services. An MoD review will be recommending a number of changes which are likely to promote an improvement in the quality of housing services overseas.