Housing

Information for families during the coronavirus outbreak

Contents

01   Message to families from head of DIO

The new head of DIO, Air Commodore James Savage, has written to families living in SFA to update them on how DIO and Amey will be continuing (with some changes) to help maintain all SFA during the new national lockdown.

However, they are also asking for your help to reduce the pressure should COVID-19 cases affect the workforce. Families are being asked to consider delaying non-urgent requests for work until lockdown is eased. For the full message, see below.

If you have any issues or concerns, please contact the AFF housing team on housingsupport@aff.org.uk

A Message for SFA Occupants from Air Commodore James Savage, Head of DIO Accommodation

As you know, the Prime Minister has this week raised the Covid-19 threat level to the highest possible and introduced new lockdown restrictions. Their aim is to control infection rates to protect the NHS and save lives.

I know this will be an anxious time for you and your family members. However, in light of the revised Government guidance, I want to remind you of the actions we are taking to continue to support you during this time and to ensure your safety and that of our staff and supply chain partners.

Our focus will remain on providing the full range of accommodation services. However, given that the new Covid-19 variant is rapidly pushing up infection rates, it is possible that, over time, our ability to deliver those services may be affected; and in all cases we will need to follow the legal requirements of the UK Government and devolved administrations as appropriate to your location.

We will continue to monitor the situation across the UK regularly and keep you updated through your Chain of Command and the Families Federations. However, it may well be we have to make some hard decisions about the services we can continue to provide. Given the differing guidance in place for England and the Devolved Administrations, and the unpredictability of the spread of the virus, our response is likely to vary from region to region but works to ensure the safety and habitability of properties will always remain a priority.

To help mitigate such potential impact as much as possible and to ease pressure on the helpdesk and operational staff, I would ask you to consider delaying any non-urgent requests for work until the current arrangements are relaxed by Government. In doing so, you would help to ensure that families with urgent needs can be supported as quickly as possible. However, should you feel you need to contact either Amey or Mears’ helpdesks on a non-urgent matter/repair, then please use emails or webforms. Advice on contacting Amey can be found here, and Mears can be contacted via 0800 032 4547 or by emailing repair.enquiry@mearsgroup.co.uk. I appreciate there were some problems and delays in contacting Amey just prior to and over the Christmas period and understand how frustrating this must have been for some families. However, their IT issues have now been resolved, and the Helpdesk has returned to full operating capability.

In the meantime, the following procedures will apply to protect your well-being and that of our staff and supply chain partners, and to ensure we all play our part in preventing the further spread of the virus:

  • Customer Service Advisors for Amey, Mears and other providers will continue to ask callers if they, or anyone living at their property, has or may have the virus and/or is undergoing a period of self-isolation.
  • Should an appointment be arranged, please notify us immediately if any household members are subsequently required to self-isolate so we can ensure operatives do not visit your SFA. Appointments will be rescheduled as soon as the period of self-isolation is over.
  • Industry partner personnel attending appointments will still call ahead to ask occupants if they, or anyone living at the property has or may have the virus, and/or is undergoing a period of self-isolation.
  • Industry partners attending appointments in your home will apply Covid Safe working practices and maintain social distancing protocols in line with the latest Government guidelines.
  • Where occupants are self-isolating, operatives will not enter a property to undertake planned or non-critical reactive maintenance or Move In/Out tasks for a period of 10 days from the first day symptoms started or until such time it is confirmed that there is no longer a risk.
  • Where occupants are self-isolating, operatives will attempt to resolve critical tasks with occupants over the telephone. If resolution is not practical, Regional DIO/Amey/Mears teams will seek to identify alternative temporary accommodation.
  • Improvement and Project works will continue in accordance with Government Guidelines. In the same way as for planned or reactive maintenance works, where operatives have to enter your home they will ask families to vacate the room they need to work in, wear face masks, wash or hand sanitise their hands prior to entry and maintain social distancing at all times.

More details can be viewed on the Amey and Mears websites.

We are in the process of reviewing our previous guidance to ensure it reflects the new circumstances. Please do keep checking Gov.uk as all the latest SFA guidance is there, and we will be updating those pages as appropriate.

I am grateful for your support and understanding as we navigate through this difficult period. Again, I understand this is a very difficult time for Service personnel and their families and I wish to assure you that the safety of you and our staff is our priority.

Air Commodore James Savage
Head of DIO Accommodation

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02   Notices to Vacate (NTVs) to start being issued from 4 January 2021

Earlier this year, the Government introduced emergency measures to protect tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those Service personnel and their families who remained in SFA after the end of their entitlement (whether due to leaving Service or separation), DIO followed Government advice by pausing Notice to Vacate (NTV) action to reclaim properties from March 2020.

However, DIO has now been given authority to restart issuing phased Notices to Vacate from 4 January 2021.

Until revised Government guidance is published, which is expected to be in March 2021, DIO will continue to follow Government guidance to give families a minimum of six months’ notice to vacate a property, rather than the normal 93 days. This will allow those Service personnel and families who have lost their entitlement more time to make alternative housing arrangements.

As the issuing of NTVs was paused in March 2020, DIO has a number of already existing cases, which they will prioritise, dealing with the oldest cases first.

If affected Service personnel and/or families have any concerns or enquiries, they should contact DIO’s Loss of Entitlement Team. Please contact the team via email, as they are not currently contactable via the usual telephone numbers, due to social distancing measures in place.

For further information on this update, please see here.

FAQs

We were due to leave the Army and our NTV was delayed. What accommodation charges do we have to pay?

If your Service person was due to be discharged from the Army but delayed in leaving the SFA due to the NTV being delayed, they will continue to pay entitled rates from the date they discharged from the Army until their NTV expires. Once the NTV has expired, they will be liable for Damages for Trespass charges, if they remain in the SFA.

How do we pay our accommodation charge?

The rental charge for the SFA charges will be taken from the Service person’s pay. Once the Service person has left the Army, DIO will send the former Service person a monthly bill to collect the accommodation charge.

What happens if we separate after 4 January? Will I be issued with a NTV immediately?

If you separate after 4 January, you will be issued a NTV but DIO will prioritise already existing cases, dealing with the oldest cases first. 

We are separating and I understand the Service person pays for the SFA before I leave. Will they only be liable to pay for the first 93 days or the whole six months, if I choose not to leave until then?

If you are separating, the Service person will remain responsible for paying your SFA charges for the usual 93-day period. These accommodation charges will be deducted direct from their pay. There will then be no charge for the remainder of your time in the SFA until the NTV has expired. Once the NTV has expired, the estranged spouse would then be eligible for Damages for Trespass charges, if they are still occupying the SFA.

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03   Lockdown in England – update from DIO

COVID-19 guidance notes for the MOD housing community, January 2021

Further to the Prime Minister introducing new lockdown restrictions, DIO Accommodation has updated COVID-19 guidance for both Service Family Accommodation and Substitute Service Family Accommodation. These guidance notes can be found on gov.uk.

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04   Working safely on the SFA estate

Despite the current COVID-19 restrictions, DIO and Amey are focussed on providing the full range of accommodation services, while ensuring the safety of Service families and their own staff.

As an Army family you can play your part if you need Amey to visit your SFA – when you contact the Amey call centre regarding repairs or maintenance to your SFA, you must inform staff if anyone in your household is self-isolating or has COVID-19 symptoms.

In addition, Amey staff will follow Government guidelines Working safely during COVID-19 in other people’s homes and protect families’ health and safety by:

  • Confirming in advance whether anyone at the property is self-isolating or social distancing
  • Wearing appropriate PPE, including a face covering, in your home
  • Washing hands for 20 seconds or more using soap and warm water at the nearest available hand wash basin on arrival and before departure
  • Using anti-bacterial alcohol-based hand gel where there are no hand washing facilities
  • Wearing an ID card in a visible position
  • Remaining more than two metres from other people
  • Asking occupants to move to another room/area while the work is carried out
  • Cleaning tools and equipment using sanitisation spray or wipes.

Further details on how Amey will carry out repairs, maintenance and mandatory checks in your home, fully in line with Government and devolved administration advice, can be viewed in this video animation.

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05   Landlords must now give tenants six months’ notice to vacate

If you are a landlord looking to ask your tenants to leave during the current pandemic, please be aware that the government has recently changed the notice period to six months for most tenants. Remember to factor this into your calculations if you intend to move back in on a specific date.

For more details see, www.gov.uk/government/news/government-has-changed-the-law-so-most-renters-have-a-6-month-notice-period

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06   Moving back into SFA in the UK from an overseas posting?

If you are returning to the UK from a country that is not currently on the Government’s up to date list of Coronavirus (COVID-19): travel corridors and moving into SFA then you must appoint a proxy to undertake the move-in appointment on your behalf whilst you are in the quarantine period.

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07   Hotel closures

AFF is aware that there have been some issues with families arriving at hotels booked through GBT as part of a house move, only to find that they are closed.  

Thereforeif you are due to stay in a hotel, please ensure that you make contact with your hotel before travelling as hotels may be required to close their doors temporarily at short notice due to the continued impact of COVID-19. The hotel telephone number will be contained in your confirmation.  

Should you experience any problems, please contact the GBT team 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0203 668 2210.  

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08   SFA safety checks

Carrying out statutory and mandatory checks is a legal requirement for landlords, including DIO. These checks are essential to maintain a safe and compliant SFA estate.

DIO understands the concerns of Service families, especially those who are self-isolating and/or shielding, in allowing access to their homes so these checks can be carried out.

However, the number of overdue checks has risen significantly, which presents a danger to affected occupants and their neighbours. Guidance on how safety checks will be carried out, in line with Government and devolved administration advice has been issued. This has been reinforced by a video (see below) to reassure families that the safety of occupants and Amey operatives is a priority when checks are carried out to keep their homes, and those of their neighbours, safe.

AFF would like to encourage all families to allow Amey operatives access to their properties to allow these vital safety checks to be carried out. If the issue is not resolved, more robust measures may be considered to gain access to properties.

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09   Removals – packing boxes

Normal removals policy is that the MOD pays for a full pack and unpack service for families – there is no requirement for families to pack anything prior to the removals team arriving and therefore there is no contractual obligation for packing boxes to be delivered to you before the day.

Should you have an exceptional need to pack earlier (for example, to help children with additional needs), you need to discuss this with the removals company and, in these situations, boxes will be provided

Historically some companies have, as a goodwill gesture and at their own expense, dropped off boxes if they have been in the area and may well still be able to do this if requested, however, it is not a requirement for them to do so.

COVID-19 has presented some complications to the moving process and as a result (as of 24 June 2020) the removals team is not able to touch some high risk of infection items, i.e. unwashed clothes, and it is requested that these items are placed in plastic bags on the day of the move so that they can be safely placed in boxes by the removal team. This is basically the used bed linen and towels from the night before and any unwashed clothes so it shouldn’t be more than a maximum of two large plastic bags (bin bags would be ideal).

The removal team will provide cartons and wardrobe boxes on the day of the move and it is requested that the family member remaining in the house places all clothes in these during the packing process.

AFF understands that many families want to get ahead of the game by packing items themselves but would ask for understanding of the contract and of the pandemic situation. With many moves taking place over the next few months there will always be new families on the patch who have boxes they can pass on to you so if you need boxes do try this approach first.

See the Agility website for the most up-to-date information and guidance on packing – scroll down and click on Agility – Covid19 Operating ConditionsV3.2FINAL – 240520.pdf

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10   Move-in/move-out queries

Amey Occupancy Services staff continue to work remotely and can be contacted by email. However, phone calls are now being diverted from the call centre to staff at home.

For applications and moves related to new, routine assignments and where you can access the e-1132, you can view the status of your application and book move-in/move-out appointments online and should book removals via the usual process via the Agility website. Please avoid contacting Occupancy Services by telephone unless your issue is urgent and continue to use email so that their day-to-day work can continue.

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11   Joint Service Housing Advice Office

The Joint Service Housing Advice Office (JSHAO) is currently unable to receive paper applications for the MOD Referral Scheme. Please send any applications to RC-Pers-JSHAO-0Mailbox@mod.gov.uk

Further information on the scheme can be found here

Due to new working patterns as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the JSHAO landline contact numbers (Civ: 01252 787574 and Mil: 94222 7574) can no longer be staffed. If you do need to get in touch please use the mobile number 07814 612120.

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12   FAM pilot

FAM Cell

Following Government guidance, the FAM Cell teams are now all working from home.

If you are already on the pilot, the FAM Cell staff will continue to support you, and payments will continue as usual during this time.

If you have yet to submit your Accommodation Preference Form please speak to your local FAM Cell team:

FAM pilot

Although the Pilot will operate as normal, the following restrictions will apply until further notice:

  • PRS applications will be processed. However, due to current Government COVID-19 restrictions, Service personnel will be informed that they should not take any further action (such as applying for PRS payments/deposits) until the FAM Cell notify them to do so.

Once the COVID-19 government restrictions are lifted, Service personnel who had to be allocated SFA during this period but would have chosen the PRS option in normal circumstances, will have that choice to move mid-tour (at MOD expense subject to policy) should they choose to do so.

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13   Disturbance Expense

Please see our allowances page for more information.

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14   Families living in SSFA

Please see the Gov.uk website for all information.

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