Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has come under fire over the squalid conditions in which military personnel live. A soldier’s video of the mold-infested room where his baby sleeps gives an insight into how military families are having to survive in substandard accommodation. But families like his have only been offered as little as £1 in compensation for living in accommodation with mould, leaky roofs and broken boilers.
Captain William Matthews, who did tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he was tired of living in a “cold house all the time” with “damp everywhere”.
Panning round the bedroom he shows the cupboards that he says are unusable due to never ending damp and mould, and the drafty windows.
And writing on Twitter he says he has “been reporting it since July, to get it fixed in time for winter. And yet, here we are … I’ve got a diary of all the calls, where someone will call us back etc. Never happens.
“Tried online, responded to their default ‘please DM us with the issue….’, got the usual response.”
And posts from other service families show water streaming through the ceiling of an army property and describe the mother of a newborn baby waiting days for an engineer to fix her boiler as the outdoor temperature falls to minus 5C.
The Government has been challenged over the issue and the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has acknowledged it is unacceptable and said it was working to improve the situation.
In the House of Lords yesterday, Labor frontbencher Lord Coaker, asked: “Why is there a backlog of 3,100 outstanding complaints about service accommodation?
“A huge backlog which includes recurring black mould, causing viral infections in children, crumbling roofs, burst pipes flooding homes, broken boilers – and even when reports are made, no guarantee of repairs, with two hours of waits on helplines.”
Defense minister Baroness Goldie blamed a “chronicle of dissatisfaction” with contractors, but promised improvements were being made.
She said the government was holding the contractors “in a vice-like grip” with fortnightly meetings with executives and daily contact between the MoD and on-the-ground workers.
Private contractor Pinnacle was given a £144million contract in March to manage 49,000 military accommodations in the UK.
The company has been forced to answer questions after it set up a helpline for families with an automated message advising them to heat their pipes with hot water bottles or warm clothes.
Last weekend Mr Wallace tweeted: “I have been contacted by a number of people about the inadequate response by @PinnacleSF @mod_dio @VIVODefence.
“I have directed those responsible for accommodation services to up their game. I shall be speaking to all the Chief Executives directly early next week.”
The Defense Secretary met with the companies responsible for the state of the accommodation on Tuesday to pressurise the executives to respond to complaints.
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Compensation to the families from Pinnacle comes in the form of shopping vouchers.
Those with failed boilers but who were issued portable heaters were given a £1 voucher for every 24 hours without their boiler.
Following backlash, the company increased it to £20 while those who were unable to live in their homes get a £25 voucher for each night spent in a hotel, as do those who were unable to use their ovens.
According to Alex Chalk, the defense procurement minister, data shows that 5,322 vouchers have been issued since April.
John Healey, the shadow defense secretary, told The Times: “It is shameful that this government has left service personnel and their families without heating during the coldest Christmas for more than a decade, and it’s an insult to hand out vouchers worth as little as £1 instead of fixing problems promptly.
“No more excuses. The defense secretary must get a grip of the problems and get tough on outsourced contractors, so our forces have homes they are happy to live in.”
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In response to the ongoing crisis, the Ministry of Defense said: “We care deeply about our people throughout their service and beyond.
“They make remarkable sacrifices, including their support to our public services following industrial action, and we are committed to helping them in different areas of their lives.
“This includes offering the biggest pay increase in 20 years, freezing daily food costs, providing generous accommodation subsidies, and saving [them] up to £3,000 per child per year by extending wraparound childcare.
“The defense secretary and defense ministers held a meeting [on Tuesday] with the heads of Pinnacle, Amey and Vivo to address the ongoing problems with service family accommodation.
“It is completely unacceptable that some of our personnel and their families are not receiving the level of accommodation services that they deserve.”