AFF Stories

Contents

01   Stephanie's story

I am a full-time wheelchair user and the camp isn’t the most accessible of places but, with a bit of support from AFF’s Health & Additional Needs Specialist late last year, we had funding agreed for eight dropped kerbs to go in.

Prior to that, I had been going out and about in my electric wheelchair but, because there were very few dropped kerbs to go onto the pavements, I’ve been having to use the roads for the whole time since I’ve been here, for a year.

If I’m going out with my four-year-old, I want to use the pavements, I want to be safer. I want him to learn good road safety, so those dropped kerbs were really important to me. It did take a bit of fighting for, but we got there. Now I’m able to use most of the pavements to get out and about round the camp.

Having a camp that I feel safe and secure to go around in my electric wheelchair on my own – it’s hard to understand how amazing that feeling is.

AFF Annual Report 2020-21

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02   Donohue's story

In September 2017, my wife and son moved from Jamaica to join me in the UK and were both issued with Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) due to expire in March 2020. We had paid for BRP renewals for my wife and son as well as the immigration health surcharge (IHS). The total amount was more than £4,000, with £2,000 of that being refundable due to me being a member of the Armed Forces.

I then sought the assistance of AFF to process the refund on the IHS. They immediately realised that the Home Office had issued my family with visas for two and a half years, when in fact they should have been given five-year visas due to me being a member of the Armed Forces. They immediately put me on to the BRP corrections centre in Sheffield who eventually gave us a full refund and extended my family’s visa for a further two and half years without charge.

AFF fully explained to me what my family’s visa entitlements were and provided me with all the relevant information, such as agencies I could contact. They also offered to assist me in the next stage of the immigration process for my family. The information they provided was not readily available and my family and I would have been left in a cycle of paying exorbitant visa fees without knowing any better.

I would implore every Commonwealth family within the Armed Forces to engage with AFF before, during and even after applying for any visas, Indefinite Leave to Remain or even naturalising, as there are different caveats that are beneficial to them and will make the process easier as opposed to going through the same route as a civilian.

They are extremely knowledgeable in their field, very helpful and caring, and most of all, they show a genuine interest in the assistance they provide.

AFF Annual Report 2020-21

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03   Becky's story

I’m a mental health nurse working in Somerset and my military connection is via my husband, my sister and her partner, who are all serving in the British Army.

I had just returned to work from an overseas posting to find that I had been put at the bottom of my pay scale because I had been out of the NHS for more than 12 months.

It felt so unfair that I worked so hard for my career for years, only to be told that I had to start at the bottom of the pay scale again. I contacted AFF’s Employment & Training Specialist, who recommended that I got in touch with the NHS Trust’s Armed Forces champion for help, with some suggestions of the key points to include in my email.

As a result of this, and speaking to the HR team, I was returned to my previous position on the pay scale and repaid the money I would have earned if I had been placed at the correct grade initially.

Without speaking to AFF, I doubt I would have known the trust had an Armed Forces champion – I was so grateful that AFF was there to help me with my issue, even more so when we got such a great result!

It was very rewarding and uplifting having the Armed Forces champion agree that my situation was unjust and to have that backing made me feel really valued. Financially, it has benefited my whole family, and for me it has meant that my own career is supported and worthwhile.

If I were to give advice to another military spouse in this position, I would say go for it…you’ve nothing to lose! Even if you’re not sure, just have a chat and see where it goes!

AFF Annual Report 2020-21

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04   Vasemaca's story

Work and family began to be a struggle with my husband being away more often. Having three kids and working every Saturday, it was becoming really difficult for me to manage. So I decided to look for new things that would accommodate our Army family.

Where did you hear about FFJ?
I saw an article on FFJ in Army&You magazine and I also saw a post on Facebook about it. The role I had applied for was to cover anywhere in the south, and even though I was not situated there, I knew my husband was due to be posted to Aldershot, so I thought I would give it a go.

How easy was FFJ to use?
I explored the site, and it was so easy. All the information that I needed as an Army wife and jobseeker was right there. I was able to select jobs that would work well for me. The vacant positions highlighted exactly what was required of the applicant. Particularly for this post with Valo, it was relevant to my work experience and personality.

How did Valo Ltd support you?
They were incredibly supportive. They believed in me during my initial telephone conversations with them. I received a further phone call advising me that I was invited to a face-to-face interview and that the company was willing to pay for my travel costs. I was upfront and explained my situation, the fact that I was due to move in the next couple of months and stated that I was willing to relocate with my husband to his next posting. I can definitely say that they understood Army life in every aspect and had the foresight to believe in the business opportunity that can be derived from such a partnership.

What was the interview process like?
I was made to feel very comfortable. The team was very welcoming and wanted to know everything about my background to gain an understanding of me and my family. I now work in a very flexible environment where I get to spend more time with my husband and kids and I don’t have to work on weekends. The team is very close-knit and incredibly supportive of each other. If it were not for the article on FFJ and post on Facebook I would not be here being accommodated for my needs.

AFF Annual Report 2020-21

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05   Pratik's story

I was buying a house in the UK and I had opened a Help to Buy ISA to save for this. I contacted the bank to close the account so that I could claim the Government bonus, but I was told that I needed to be physically present in the branch to do this.

It was impossible for me to go to the branch, as I was in Brunei, so I asked if my wife could close the account on my behalf. The bank said this was only possible if I gave my wife the power of attorney, which would take between eight to 10 weeks, but I was due to exchange contracts on the house before that. I was due to miss out on the bonus of £2,000 because of the bank’s policy and my overseas posting.

I contacted AFF and the Money & Allowances Specialist managed to speak to the bank and resolve the issue, so that I could close my Help to Buy ISA whilst overseas, meaning I could access the bonus and complete my house sale. If AFF wasn’t involved, I wouldn’t have been able to claim the bonus.

I would advise other families to get in touch with AFF if they have any financial issues. The AFF team will always try their best to resolve the issue. I had tried many times to convince the bank but all in vain until AFF stepped in. I am very pleased with their help.

All of the AFF team are very professional, empathetic and experts in their field. They are the best. I will always be grateful for AFF’s help and support.

AFF Annual Report 2020-21

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06   Christopher's story

A friend mentioned AFF so I looked on the website and read the article about the appeals process, and realised that appeals could be successful due to exceptional circumstances.

I contacted AFF and was advised that there was no guarantee of success but I decided to go ahead. AFF came to court with me and the judge said that the case was well put together. The whole process took a year and two months and the appeal took a year.

During the process, Katherine at AFF would always get back to me, and if she said she would do it, she did it. Without AFF, my family would still be in Jamaica. My family have been here for a year now and I’m not as stressed. In fact, I’ve had a promotion, so that speaks volumes. Before, I only went home three times a year, which cost £1,000 each time. I was leading a double life. AFF gave me the support I needed.

Some people just do what the system says but the advice I would give to other families in the same situation is to never give up. Fight for what’s right. Know in your heart that you’re worth more and don’t settle for less than you deserve. Keep fighting.

AFF Annual Report 2019-20

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07   Becca's story

AFF helped us push for a new bathroom to be fitted. Our old bathroom was full of mould, with tiles falling off, rotten skirting boards and blind fittings, holes in the walls where fittings had been replaced but the walls not fixed. It was just a really poor job. Our ceiling ended up having mould bugs all over it and it just felt like a really dirty room. It felt like we couldn’t really use this room, nor did we want to be in it.

We struggled to get Amey to see the poor state of the room for what it was. We were told that it was a northfacing room and so mould was to be expected and that the mould on the ceiling wasn’t mould. We were even told once that we had to lower our expectations when moving into the area.

We knew something was amiss and so got in touch with AFF and sent them photos of our bathroom. There was no begging, no pleading, no convincing, they were just on the case straight away and within a week we had been approved for a new bathroom. It took a while for it to be put through, but we had Cat at AFF checking in with us regularly to see if work had been
started and she was on their case to get it done. We couldn’t have done it without her.

I would say to any family who are living in a quarter that is below standard, if you feel like you’re not being listened to, get in touch with AFF. Amey has to save money on housing, understandably, but that shouldn’t mean we have to live in below-par conditions. AFF has your back and will fight your corner until the required work is done, and they’re great at what they do!

AFF Annual Report 2019-20

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08   Megan's story

When we arrived in Germany, I’d applied for a school job but the application didn’t get seen in time for the deadline. I had heard about Forces Families Jobs from a coffee morning and also through Facebook. All you’ve got to do is type in your area, so I typed in Sennelager and the NAAFI job came up. Applying was really straightforward, it took about five to 10 minutes.

Getting a job was to get me out and about, as I’d spent nearly two years not working. It also meant I could get my son into nursery, which has helped him a lot, and it gives us the extra stability of being able to pay the bills. It makes our family life a lot better because we’ve got two incomes coming in rather than just relying on one.

Since COVID-19 the amount of hours that I do has changed. NAAFI has allowed me to work a couple of hours in the morning so that I can still get my wage. They’ve been really helpful. If anything changes and my son goes back to nursery, I can change my hours and be flexible.

Within about two days of them knowing the nursery was shutting down, my line manager and supervisor were both quick to reassure me, saying they would work around it. Within three days I was working my new hours.

AFF Annual Report 2019-20

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09   Phil's story

We were having issues with accessing the 50 per cent council tax discount on our second home that we knew we were entitled to. While our experience wasn’t necessarily negative, we felt further training of key staff within the council was needed. The letter they issued was also difficult to clearly interpret. Cat Calder, AFF’s Housing Specialist, sent us the policy we needed to use and helped us frame our request to London Haringey Council.

While we needed a home in London, we were still paying Charge in Lieu of Council Tax (CILOCT) on our Army quarter, so this did help us financially. While we’d love to be living in our own home, for Service reasons it just isn’t feasible at the moment.

AFF’s support meant we knew what we were entitled to and how to access it. This gave me the confidence to challenge the local council. My advice to other families in the same position would be not to give up! You will need a lot of hard evidence. AFF can help you with saying the right things, but ultimately knowing your entitlement is key.

In our case, it took around eight months for our case to be approved and I was required to show pay slips to prove I was also paying for our military accommodation. Our local council was actually unaware of the policy, so raising my query to the deputy director was required to move things forward.

Getting in touch with AFF through the website was simple and helped us make sense of our entitlements.

AFF Annual Report 2018-19

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10   Tej's story

I went along to an AFF coffee morning to find out if I was able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) for my family. My daughter was due to go to university so I wanted to apply on her behalf first so she could apply for a student loan. However, the Home Office website stated that to apply for a child, both parents needed to have ILR/settled status. We were running out of time and there would have been a huge cost had I needed to apply for all three family members.

I explained our visa history to Jess in AFF’s F&C team and she suspected we’d previously been issued with the wrong visas. After providing copies of our passports and visas she was able to follow up our case with the Home Office and come back to me within a few days. Our family then received ILR within a month and saved over £7,000 of visa costs in the process!

It was great to have AFF’s F&C team guide us through the process and the supporting information provided on the AFF website was plain and simple. I’d encourage my fellow F&C soldiers and their families to use it as their first port of call and look out for AFF F&C events in their area – they’re a wonderful, approachable team who are always there to help.

AFF Annual Report 2018-19

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11   Callum's story

While trying to do an overseas move from the USA to EJSU, we found ourselves falling through the admin cracks and needing information and advice on the processes we needed to follow. AFF helped by providing authoritative advice on what visas we needed in order to move my family (US Citizens) from the USA to Belgium on a NATO assignment. I had initially approached the MOD visa section, but they were unable to assist, and I couldn’t get a clear answer from the Belgian Embassy.

AFF was the first (and only) organisation to make it clear that my family needed UK residential status in order to be covered by the MOD and any Status of Forces Agreement. Their support made all the difference in the world to our family! We were able to apply for the correct visas and AFF provided advice on the visa application. As we were by this time hard up against visa processing deadlines, the advice was both timely and extremely useful.

I found the lack of support from the defence system particularly galling. I temper this with the fact that I was on exchange in an isolated detachment, but accessing information was difficult and expertise rare. All we ask for is the basics done well.

My advice for other families would be to engage with AFF early on, especially if your family circumstances are in any way unusual (citizenship, special needs children). AFF has a continuity of knowledge and expertise that often surpasses that of receiving (overseas) units.

We found moving to and from the USA to be a traumatic experience. We were prepared for this, and while the rewards outweighed the pain, if it had not been for AFF I have every expectation that I would have ended up moving without my family.

AFF Annual Report 2018-19

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12   Emma's story

When we moved into our new quarter, the house was in a state of disrepair. The kitchen was over 30 years old and no longer fit for purpose. It should have been refitted by CarillionAmey (CA) during the time of non-occupancy. Notably, when the kitchen was finally removed, the contractor also found that waste had also been leaking behind the cupboards and therefore, it truly was a health hazard.

AFF is solely responsible for the kitchen being refitted within six months of us moving in. Initially, CA stated that they were not willing to change the kitchen as the house was now occupied. AFF advocated on our behalf, meaning that I did not need to spend any time or emotional energy getting the issue rectified. The magnitude of this I cannot stress enough. As a military spouse with two children under the age of four, one of whom has a chronic health condition, I don’t always have the capacity to chase such matters. Not only did AFF ensure that I had a home that was fit for purpose, but they also ensured that I could dedicate my limited resources to what’s important – compensating for an absent parent to ensure that my family unit was happy and content.

I didn’t seek help through other avenues as I have already learnt that AFF offer a ‘one-stop shop’. This is not the first time that they have supported my family – they truly are indispensable to the military community.

The difference that AFF makes as an organisation is invaluable. I witness too many military families who spend considerable time and energy chasing housing issues, becoming frustrated and these issues take a toll on their children. AFF is probably the greatest support for military families. They offer sound, reliable advice and emotional support, in addition to their endeavours to ensure that military families have adequate housing. Thank you to all of those in AFF who have supported my family over the last five years.

AFF Annual Report 2018-19

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