Background to the report

The Ministry of Defence (the Department) has committed to providing regular service personnel with high-quality subsidised accommodation as a condition of service. This is in recognition of the inherently mobile lifestyle many personnel experience and the remote nature of many military bases. Single Living Accommodation (SLA) is normally provided in the form of accommodation blocks inside military bases and is available to single and unaccompanied personnel undertaking initial training, or serving on a regular engagement with the Armed Forces, as well as some full-time reservists.

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As at 31 October 2020, 79,963 service personnel, around 52% of the total Armed Forces, occupied SLA. For some it is their only accommodation; for others, it is used alongside periods living in their own home, for example at weekends. Recent work to gather accurate, up-to-date data on bed spaces and their location is not yet complete, as not all sites have returned data. As of February 2020, the Department estimated it owned 103,751 SLA bed spaces in the UK, across 78% of SLA sites.

Scope of the report

This report examines whether the Department is providing SLA that, as far as possible, meets its needs and those of service personnel, in a way that delivers value for money, it assesses:

  • the types and location of SLA, and the grading system used to set charges for SLA (Part One);
  • if the Department has established a cost-effective approach to managing its SLA (Part Two);
  • if the Department has SLA of an appropriate standard (Part Three); and
  • if the Department is putting in place appropriate arrangements to transform SLA in the future (Part Four).

Report conclusions

Currently, the Department is not meeting its commitment to provide high-quality subsidised accommodation to all service personnel. Satisfaction with SLA has declined in recent years and can impact on retention, risking the Department’s ability to deliver defence capabilities. SLA has not been a priority for the Department. There has been no clear strategy, limited investment in buildings and a ‘fix on fail’ approach to maintenance. While this approach might help with cost saving in the short term, it has led to an overall decline in the condition of SLA and shortened the life of these buildings, thereby increasing future costs. Without greater clarity on how much it is spending on SLA and how it is used or maintained, the Department cannot show it is achieving value for money.

Although work is under way to improve some SLA, with Commands developing investment plans worth £1.5 billion, these are not yet based on a clear understanding of future demand for SLA, the expectations of service personnel, or knowledge of what a reasonable standard of SLA would look like. Recent efforts have been made to improve governance arrangements for SLA and coordinate all SLA work. Without these operating effectively, and SLA decisions being taken in line with other related programmes, the Department risks not achieving value for money in the future.

"Decades of under-investment has left many of the barracks where members of our Armed Forces live in a poor state. Problems with heating and hot water are not conditions that they should have to tolerate.

"It is encouraging that more focus has been given to Single Living Accommodation since 2018, but the improvements will take time to have an effect. MOD needs to get this right if it is to retain service personnel in the long term."

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO


Publication details

Press release

View press release (3 Feb 2021)

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