Forces veterans 'disadvantaged' by housing policies

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Media captionThe Commons Welsh Affairs Committee says veterans should be made a bigger priority

Armed forces veterans could struggle to get on social housing waiting lists in Wales, a committee of MPs has warned.

Military personnel who move between bases could be at a disadvantage when they return to civilian life if council housing departments favour people who can show a strong local connection.

The Commons Welsh Affairs Committee says veterans should be made a bigger priority.

The Welsh government acknowledged there was inconsistency between councils.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said it would encourage councils to review their policies in light of the committee's recommendations and their local circumstances.

The committee said it was a "serious concern" that the mobility requirements of a military career could put someone at a "real disadvantage" when they start looking for a home after leaving the forces.

Local councils set their own policies for allocating housing, but Welsh government guidance says they should consider prioritising injured military personnel and veterans leaving the forces.

However, MPs were told about the difficulties veterans face because the guidance was not being implemented consistently.

They heard councils often apply a "local connection" rule to decide who gets homes. It means someone may need to have been a resident for a number of years to receive priority status.

Because of frequent movement between postings, the rate of home ownerships is low in the armed services. About 30% of forces personnel own their own homes, an MoD survey found in 2006.

In his evidence to the committee, Welsh Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant, who has responsibility for veterans' services, acknowledged councils' housing policies were inconsistent.

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Media captionOliver Hides spoke to Gulf War veteran Keith Johnson who served for 14 years

In a report, the committee urged Welsh ministers to consider legislation to make sure veterans are made a priority.

It is among a series of proposals for public bodies to improve the services available to the estimated 200,000 to 250,000 veterans in Wales.

Sufficient funding should be guaranteed for a service to help veterans with mental health problems, the report says.

It adds that failing to transfer medical records between the Ministry of Defence and the NHS can "compromise" their care .

Small charities have been established to help veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

'Catch 22s'

However, there is concern about the way they are regulated and about whether the counselling they provide meets guidelines from the medical watchdog Nice.

Some veterans struggle to get information about the services that are available to them, the committee found.

Although support is available, it is often not taken up because veterans do not know about it.

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Media captionProf Alan Hawley, a retired major general, says councils need to make decisions based on local needs

GPs are often unaware that veterans are entitled to priority NHS treatment, the report says.

A one-stop-shop in Edinburgh, jointly funded by the Scottish government and NHS, provides advice on housing, finances and jobs. A similar service should be set up in Wales, MPs say.

Committee chairman David Davies said: "There are some 'catch 22s' that disadvantage veterans in for example accessing housing and benefits and these must be addressed urgently.

"We should not be making it harder for people who have served their country in the ultimate way - putting their lives on the line - to access the services and support they need and deserve."

Prof Alan Hawley, a retired major general and military expert, said he believes there are enough charities and organisations to help veterans.

"What you don't have is a system to pull all that together and co-ordinate it," he told BBC Radio Wales.

"Because if that were properly done I suspect that there would be sufficient resources to take some of the heat out of the politics of this."

The Welsh government said it was committed to improving housing services for veterans and their families.

A spokeswoman said: "We are working with the Ministry of Defence and housing advice services to make sure that people in the services have access to housing advice before and after discharge and, in Wales, service personnel and veterans have priority status under the Homebuy scheme."

The MoD said 24,000 people leave the forces every year, most of them successfully.

A spokesman said: "Individuals leaving the armed forces receive a robust resettlement package to help them make this transition.

"They also have access to the wide range of advice, support and information available to help them make the mental adjustment to civilian life.

"This includes tailored NHS mental health services and a 24-hour helpline so personnel and veterans can seek help at any time."

The WLGA welcomed the report and said councils had the ability to give preferential treatment to people who urgently need homes.

A spokesman said: "Local councils can now consider giving additional preference within their local allocation schemes to applicants who need accommodation as a result of leaving the armed forces, or to those who require suitable adapted accommodation because of needs created as a result of their armed forces service."

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