House homeless veterans in vacant MOD properties, urges SNP MSP

Figures revealed through Freedom of Information show 1136 MOD properties currently sit empty in Scotland

  • 889 former military personnel applied for homelessness status in Scotland in 2017/18
  • The MoD told CommonSpace that the number of vacant properties is “higher than we would like”
  • Veterans for Peace UK argue: “The root cause of veterans often becoming homeless is due to the horrors they have suffered and seen during war.”

THE MINISTRY OF DEFENCE should use its vacant properties in Scotland to house homeless veterans, an SNP MSP has argued.

Gordon MacDonald, MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands, made the call after it was revealed via Freedom of Information that the number of vacant MoD properties in Scotland has increased from 690 in 2013 to 1136 in 2018.

In a letter to Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson, McDonald noted: “Recent figures show that 1136 properties, owned by the Ministry of Defence, currently sit empty in Scotland – a staggering rise from 690 vacant homes in 2013.

“While I understand some of these properties are in need of modernisation or have structural damage, many are considered 'surplus' and could be used as housing for veterans on their route to a permanent tenancy.

“The Ministry of Defence has a duty of care to help those who have served – I believe it is time to bring this vacant housing into use for the public good."

In November 2018, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also called for surplus MoD properties to be put to better use,advocating that empty army houses at Leuchars Station army base should be made available for public use to address Fife’s housing needs.

According the the FOI findings, vacancies existing among Scottish MoD properties have been chiefly attributed to MoD policy surrounding Surplus Service Family Accommodation (SFA), which requires waiting for service personnel to vacate so that SFAs can be disposed of in one cluster, as well as modernisation requirements and structural, flood and fire damage, as noted by MacDonald. Additionally, MoD establishments either closing or being refitted to suit future requirements can often require periods of temporary vacancy.”

MacDonald highlighted efforts in Scotland to combat overall homelessness, saying: “The Scottish Government is stepping up actions to tackle homelessness – driving forward a number of activities to specifically address veterans’ homelessness. Over the past eight years there has been a 39 per cent reduction in homeless applications in Scotland.”

In his letter to Williamson, MacDonald warned that “the risk of homelessness is all too common among veterans, some of whom will struggle to adapt to civilian life or may suffer from mental illness such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).”

READ MORE: ‘Can we end homelessness in Scotland? Aye, we can’: Scottish Government pledges £21m to Housing First

On 9 January, UK Government housing secretary James Brokenshire announcedthat veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental illnesses will be given the same priority for social housing as those who have experienced physical injury.

In October 2018, the Guardian newspaper reported that 6 per cent of veterans experience PTSD, with that rate rising to 9.4 per cent amongst those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Veteran homelessness is a cost of war that has been poorly addressed by our successive governments,” Phillip Clarke, national coordinator of Veterans for Peace UK, told CommonSpace. “The root cause of veterans often becoming homeless is due to the horrors they have suffered and seen during war.”

Responding to MacDonald’s comments, a MoD spokesperson told CommonSpace: “We take the wellbeing of those who have bravely served this country extremely seriously, and we work across Government to ensure they get the right support.

“We recently published our Veterans Strategy, which outlined clear goals in terms of how we deliver support, and the MOD is launching a new Defence Transition Service, which will work with service personnel as they prepare to start new civilian lives.”

The MoD spokesperson added: “Managing accommodation for serving personnel is fundamentally different to housing in other sectors, and given we manage up to 20,000 service family moves a year, it is essential we keep a percentage of our housing stock empty at all times. While the majority of these properties have been vacant for less than a year, we are working to bring down the vacancy rate through sub-letting and disposing of properties we no longer need.

READ MORE: Reports find British military targeting working class recruits and creating violent culture

“However, we accept the current level of vacancies is higher than we would like, which is why the MoD has developed a Void Reduction Plan to reduce the level of vacant properties to around 12 per cent by 2020.  The plan is under continual review.”

Commenting on MacDonald’s proposal, Martin Nadin, chief executive of Scottish Veterans Residences, also told CommonSpace: “As a charity which supports homeless veterans, we are clearly aware of how this issue can impact on ex-military personnel but it’s also important to put this into perspective. The vast majority of service personnel transition from military service into civilian life without difficulty and, as a proportion of the population, the number of veterans becoming homeless is very small.

“For those veterans who do require support, providing a roof over their head is often just one part of the equation. A significant number are dealing with drug or alcohol issues, relationship breakdowns and/or mental health problems. Therefore, when homeless veterans are being offered accommodation it often needs to be provided in an environment where these support services can be delivered.  

“We are aware that homelessness is being considered by the Scottish Government, as part of its housing strategy, and we would of course support measures that help veterans avoid becoming homeless.”

“Veteran homelessness is a cost of war that has been poorly addressed by our successive governments.” Veterans for Peace UK national coordinator Phillip Clarke

Official statistics on the total number of homeless veterans in the UK are currently unavailable, though the charity the Royal British Legion has campaigned for this factor to be included in the Census, so more targeted support can be provided.

However, Scottish Government statistics on the number of people who have applied for homelessness statusshow that, while there has been a drop in the number of homeless veterans over the past decade, hundreds of veterans still apply each year, with 889 applying in 2017/18.

Elsewhere in the UK, research cited by Plaid Cymru has suggested that there may be as many as 6,000 homeless veterans in England and Wales.

Commenting in September last year, Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville-Roberts argued: “Ten years ago we were campaigning for proper provision of welfare services for veterans.

"It is a scandal that we still don’t have the necessary information on veteran welfare.”

Picture courtesy of Strevo

HELP US BUILD A COMMON FUTURE TOGETHER: Support our work atallofusfirst.org/donate