Policy Changes


AFF works hard to give Army families a voice and make sure that they are represented when policy is being made. Traditionally AFF worked just with the Army chain of command but with the introduction of the Armed Forces Covenant, AFF finds itself increasingly representing Army families at local and central Government. Our Specialists, Directors and our Chief Executive brief Ministers, legal experts, and government agencies on issues that affect our Army families. We represent Army families on a range of committees including Defence Committees and Pay Review Boards. AFF also works collaboratively with a range of charities on specific subjects including employment, disability and immigration support for our Foreign and Commonwealth Soldiers. A range of our work and our successes can be found below:

What we are working on

AFF is currently working on the following issues:

Allowances:

  • Access to Service Children's Visits (SCV) for divorced soldiers

Education & Childcare:

  • Nursery provision overseas
  • Transfer of school records
  • New SEN code
  • Service Pupil Premium
  • Attainment of Service children
  • Free Scottish university education

 

Policy successes: We are pleased to have influenced the following changes in policy:

Local authorities lead the way in housing support for divorced spouses

AFF in ActionA number of separated and divorced spouses contacted AFF to tell us you were unable to register for social housing due to a lack of local connection to your chosen area as a result of the mobility associated with Army life.

AFF in action

We highlighted this disadvantage to both central and local government and are delighted to announce that two local authorities are now leading the way in supporting such families.

After meeting with AFF, the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham council have confirmed their commitment to supporting the Armed Forces - including separated spouses of serving personnel – by including them in the criteria for their affordable housing programme. 

Improving policy 

Cheshire West & Chester council has also become the first local authority to amend its social housing policy to make it easier for separated and divorced Army spouses to register for social housing.  

By waiving the local connection criterion for Armed Forces spouses, you will now have equal right to apply for social housing in your preferred area.

Our work continues 

We would like to see other local authorities match this good practice.

AFF continues to work with individual local authorities and central government on this issue, particularly highlighting the effect on children within families who will remain part of the Armed Forces community whilst a parent is still serving.

If you’re experiencing difficulties accessing social housing due to a lack of local connection, contact Cat Calder, AFF Housing Specialist, at housing@aff.org.uk 

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Great news for Army families living in their own home

AFF in ActionJust because you’re an Army family living in your own home, doesn’t mean you should receive a raw deal when it comes to MOD allowances – right?

You told AFF

Earlier this year AFF was contacted by a family living in their own home who’d tried to claim Concessionary Travel for Families (CTF) allowance whilst their soldier was deployed, only to be told that CTF was only for involuntary separated families and not for families living in their own home (voluntary separated).

Fighting your corner 

We put AFF Employment Training Allowances and Money Specialist, Caroline Mayne, on the case and argued that it’s wrong to assume that such families are able to receive support from their wider family and that a deployment should be regarded as being involuntary separated.

We are delighted to announce that the MOD has agreed, and that the policy has been changed to ensure that families living in their own home will now be able to claim CTF while their soldier is deployed.

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Improved Additional Needs Adaptation (ANA) process for Service families

AFF in ActionIn 2012 AFF conducted a tri – Service survey to identify the issues that you were having with the Additional Needs Adaption to SFA process. We identified three main areas of concern from your feedback:

  • Acquiring an Occupational Therapist (OT) report (an OT’s report is always required for ANA to SFA)
  • Communication between your family, DIO and MHS
  • Timescales for the completion of adaptations

AFF commented extensively on the process and asked DIO for improvements to be made.

Success for families

AFF is pleased that, as a result of our evidence and recommendations, the Families Federations are now named as stakeholders in the new process; this will allow us to support your family even better.

The following improvements feature in the new process:

  • DIO assistance with acquiring a Local Authority (LA) OT within a certain timeframe, in some circumstances
  • Confidential medical information can be sent directly to the HASC manager via email
  • The housing officer will be the point of contact between your family and DIO/MHS for the duration of the process, keeping you regularly informed on progress and any reasons for delay
  • Specific timescales for each stage of the process and a published schedule of works 

To view the new ANA to SFA guidance flowchart click here.

 Get in touch

Are you about to apply for ANA to SFA? Then AFF wants to hear from you. 

We are really keen to follow you through the process so that we can give feedback from families to DIO. Please contact Cat Calder at housing@aff.org.uk or Karen Ross at additionalneeds@aff.org.uk for more information.

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Changes to Domestic Violence rules for F&C families
Report on outcomes pending. To view brief produced to secure changes, click here.

Second offers for SFA allocation
Report pending

A mould success story
For many years during the winter period, families have approached AFF about mould in their SFA and the way it is dealt with by DIO and MHS. Last year AFF decided to launch its Mould database in order to gather as much information about how many SFA experience mould and damp problems. The residents of Elm Hill enthusiastically got behind this project and 10 houses were recorded on our database. AFF approached DIO with these numbers and it became apparent that the information provided by the families didn’t match the amount of calls reporting mould to the MHS Help Desk. Despite the lack of supporting information from MHS, DIO agreed to carry out intrusive structural checks on sample properties to ascertain the condition of the properties and to see if remedial works were required. 

The investigations revealed that the properties were suffering from water ingress through poor roofs and cold bridging, resulting in damp and mould in upstairs rooms; so not a “lifestyle” issue after all! Although patch repair has been carried out on a few properties, the investigations have shown that a considerable amount of work is needed to prevent future damp and mould issues.

As a result of the investigations, regional DIO staff were successful in bidding for funding to resolve the roofing problems (which will hopefully cure the mould issues which families in these houses have put up with for many years) and permission was granted for the houses in Elm Hill to be re-roofed. As an added bonus funding was also found to improve other aspects of what are very tired houses so not only should these families be mould free but they will see a marked improvement in some internal aspects of their houses such as new kitchens or bathrooms and new boilers.

Complaints about the standard of housing form the bulk of our enquiries and AFF regards the announcement of this project as a huge success for families – a demonstration that DIO and MHS listened to AFF and the families concerned and actioned all our concerns.

We urge all families to continue to report incidences of mould and damp through the MHS Helpline. Without this information DIO are unable to accurately assess the level of problem with mould in their SFA. Families should also utilise the AFF Mould database so that by families, AFF, MHS and DIO working together we will allow DIO to understand the condition of the SFA and also bid for upgrade money to enhance the SFA and improve our time living on the MOD estate.

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Overseas Flights for University Students
You told us you were unhappy that full-time university students, with parents serving overseas, are no longer eligible for financial assistance towards flight costs home during the holidays. University accommodation is not always available in the holidays and so families face a considerable financial burden in bringing their children home. AFF took this issue to the chain of command and briefed at the highest level:

AFF View: AFF believes that children should have fair access to higher education. Overseas postings should not disadvantage these families with unmanageable travel costs and we feel that this currently acts as a deterrent. AFF would like this allowance reinstated as soon as possible.

We are delighted to say that our campaign has secured a change in the allowance system and the following has been published in DIN 2013 01-199.

Service Children's Visit (SCV)
The SDSR removal of the entitlement to one return SCV journey per year for dependants studying for their first degree was based on the principle that the MOD should not pay for adult dependants. However, as students often have no home other than the family residence during holidays, this places a financial burden on Service personnel who fund the journey for their children. Therefore the annual SCV for dependants in tertiary education up to a maximum age of 23 years for personnel serving overseas has been restored.

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Waving International Fees
The Department for Education has a very strict funding criteria and classed an American spouse, married to a NATO soldier, as an international student. This was because she was here as a temporary resident accompanying her soldier on a posting. This spouse approached AFF because the international fees were huge compared to normal ‘home’ rates and would be incredibly difficult to meet. 

AFF approached Kent County Council’s Armed Forces Community Covenant to see if they could help look at removing this disadvantage. We are absolutely delighted that the Community Covenant acted straight away and approached the college directly resulting in the College Principal waiving the international fees:

Principal: “As a signatory to the Covenant, the College endorses actions to ‘level the playing field’ for serving members of the Armed Forces. I have therefore instructed our admissions staff to waive the fee differential and to treat the spouse as a ‘home’ student with regard to fees payable.” 

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Thanks in part to the campaigning work of AFF, new rules have now been brought in covering Get You Home (Overseas) Allowance, School Children's Visits and Concessionary Travel for Families. The rules were introduced on Feb 1 2013.

Get You Home Allowance (Overseas)
Now the GYH (O) allowance can be claimed even if the serving person is not on leave. The serving soldier does not have to travel as part of the family for journeys to the UK. In addition, a spouse who is not from the UK can set their GYH (O) allowance against the cost of returning to their home country.

Service Children's Visits
Parents claiming CEA can now claim for a journey by car, in addition to the previous travel by train or plane. For more details please contact Lucy Scott, AFF Education and Childcare Specialist at ec@aff.org.uk or Diane Weir, Director AFF Germany at director@affgermany.org

Concessionary Travel for Families
Non-UK spouses can now use their CTF entitlement against standard-class travel to their home country. For more on these allowances, please see the DIN, or contact Caroline Mayne, AFF Employment, Training, Allowances and Money Specialist etam@aff.org.uk.

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Retention of SFA for spouses

A change in policy for retaining SFA has now been announced, thanks to the campaigning work of AFF, alongside the Naval and RAF families’ federations; you are now able to apply to retain your SFA if your soldier is short-toured and you are doing a course which you can’t transfer to another area of the country OR if you have to give a specified time scale of notice to your employer. This change aligns policy with the existing provision which supports retention of SFA when you have children in public exam years. 

JSP details below:

Retention of SFA for Spouses on Adult Educational Courses

Where a spouse is undertaking adult educational or training courses aimed specifically at improving their skills for work and/or opening up new employment opportunities which was started in the realistic expectation that it would have been completed in the period of the Service person’s current assignment (i.e. prior to a declared Future Availability Date on the SP’s Assignment Order) but the Service person is instead assigned elsewhere before the end of the course. A case may be made through Unit HR office to the HASC for the retention of SFA/SSFA. This must be demonstrated with conclusive evidence, including addressing course transferability, supported by Unit HR staff and presented to the HASC. Such cases are to be considered with the Local Service Commander and the relevant single Service Housing Colonel, as required, and include permitting retention on a temporary surplus basis, offering alternative accommodation in the same area (if available) or in areas where surplus SFA exists. It must not lead to entitled personnel being accommodated in SSFA. 

Notice Period for Spouses’ Employers

In situations where a short notice posting of the Service personnel does not allow for sufficient notice to be given to spouses’ employers. A case may be made through Unit HR Office to the HASC for the retention of SFA/SSFA. Such cases are to be considered by the HASC in consultation with the Local Service Commander and the relevant single Service Housing Colonel, as required. Retention is only to be granted for the minimum period necessary to give and complete the contracted notice period. It must not lead to entitled personnel being accommodated in SSFA. 

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UKBA grants discretion to soldiers who discharge with an unspent conviction
AFF, along with other Service charities, has secured a change in policy after lobbying government to re-examine the rules for soldiers who discharge with an unspent conviction.

In April 2011, the new criminality requirement for settlement came into effect, which prevented anyone with a conviction from applying for settlement. We argued that the unique immigration status of a soldier on discharge meant that they were being disproportionately disadvantaged by this new rule.

We are very pleased to announce that as a result of this lobbying, led by Veterans’ Aid, UK Border Agency (UKBA) has now put into place a policy to allow soldiers to apply for a period of limited leave in order that they can remain in the UK until they are eligible to apply for settlement. During this period they will also be able to work and apply for any relevant benefits. Family members on limited leave visas can apply in-line with the soldiers. This new policy will come into effect on 13th December.  

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Voting
AFF has highlighted the inability of Forces personnel and their families who are based overseas and are unable to have a direct vote. Due to the short timeframe between the release of polling cards and the deadline for voting it is very unlikely that a postal vote will reach the polling station in time. Proxy voting does not offer a valuable alternative. Many soldiers will not have a person whom they can trust to vote in the way they wish. AFF has successfully highlighted this issue to the previous government’s voting working group and it has received much attention in the House of Lords. The current government has taken on board the issues and is currently investigating extending the length of time between the issue and return of voting papers for postal votes. In the short term the government worked with the Electoral Commission, BFPO and Royal Mail to fast track ballot papers to Service personnel in Afghanistan. AFF recognises that this has not assisted families and those serving in Germany and Cyprus but are pleased that some progress is being made The MOD is also participating in a data matching pilot during 2011 to help identify whether the required levels of accuracy and completeness can be achieved on the Electoral Register – this is to help ensure that Service personnel need only register once on the Service register.

 

 

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AFF is interested to hear your views or concerns about issues discussed on our website. Please email us at feedback@aff.org.uk.

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