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Tenancy rights of armed forces personnel and their families

This content applies to England

The position of armed forces personnel who live in family accommodation provided by the Ministry of Defence.

Type of accommodation

Armed forces personnel can be provided with Service Family Accommodation (SFA), owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), in which they can live with their spouse, civil partner and/or dependent children.

The type of property allocated depends on rank in the case of officers, and family size in the case of other personnel.

SFA will be located at the armed forces personnel’s duty station or within a set radius.

Where SFA is not available, privately rented accommodation can be provided. The MoD (or its contractor) leases the property from a private landlord and allocates it to qualifying personnel. This is known as ‘Substitute SFA’ (SSFA).

This page does not look at the accommodation provided to other armed forces personnel, for example those living in barracks or in living accommodation for single personnel.

Qualifying personnel

SFA is allocated by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO). The DIO is part of the MoD.

SFA can be provided to armed forces personnel who are married or in a civil partnership (with or without children), or single and:[1]

  • pregnant (within three months of the due date)
  • responsible for a dependent child
  • with particular personal circumstances, for example approved foster carers, those waiting to adopt, Gurkhas, and Service Chaplains.

Applicants must:[2]

  • be at least 18-years-old
  • have at least six months to serve in the area where the SFA is to be provided (except where they are being made compulsorily redundant within six months).

Cohabitants who are not married or in a civil partnership will not be allocated SFA under any circumstances.[3]

Security of tenure

Armed forces personnel are granted a licence of SFA. As a licensee they are covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and are entitled to a remain in occupation until the MoD/DIO obtain a court order for possession.

SFA is provided by the MoD/DIO and as such is a Crown letting and is specifically excluded from the statutory regime governing assured and regulated tenancies.[4]

The MoD/DIO does not meet the landlord condition for creating a secure tenancy or secure licence, as such SFA cannot be protected by the secure tenancy regime.[5]

Notice to end SFA: DIO

The DIO must give the licensee a written notice to vacate SFA. The notice period is normally 93 days but in limited circumstances can be 28 days.[6]

93-day notice

The DIO will issue a 93-day written notice to vacate where the licensee is:

  • formally declared absent without leave (AWOL)
  • medically discharged
  • discharged for non-disciplinary reasons.

A 93-day notice to vacate must also be issued where the:

  • licensee’s relationship with their spouse or civil partner has broken down (see below for more information)
  • property is required for refurbishment or disposal, when possible the DIO should also give a six-month prior notice of their intention to carry out works on (or dispose of) the property.[7]

28-day notice

The DIO will issue a 28-day written notice to vacate where the licensee:

  • has breached their licence agreement
  • is dismissed from the armed forces on disciplinary grounds
  • is eligible but no longer entitled to SFA.[8] This includes personnel on a career break or in SFA at a location away from their duty station.

Notice to end SFA: licensee

The licensee can end their licence to occupy the SFA by giving the DIO a 93-day written notice to vacate. The notice cannot be served during the first three months of the licence. In certain circumstances a shorter period of notice will be accepted, for example where the service person is assigned to a new posting on short notice.[9]

Status after expiry of notice

On expiry of the notice to vacate SFA, the licensee and/or any other occupiers will become trespassers if they remain in the property. The DIO refers to such trespassers as ‘irregular occupants’.[10]

On expiry of a notice to vacate the irregular occupant can remain in the property until the DIO obtains a court order.

Defending possession proceedings

Where the court is satisfied that the MoD/DIO has served the correct notice, it will make an outright order for possession.

In certain cases a defence could be made:

  • on conventional judicial review grounds
  • on human rights grounds
  • under the Equality Act 2010.

For more information see Public law and human rights defences and Disability discrimination defences.

Relationship breakdown

In the event of relationship breakdown, the DIO can allow for a ‘reconciliation period’ of up to 93 days.[11] During this period the licensee could be moved to alternative accommodation. They will be required to pay rent (and other charges levied by the DIO) on both the alternative accommodation and the SFA.

If at the end of the period it is clear that there will be no reconciliation and the Service licensee is still living in the SFA without their partner, they will have their personal status category assessed to check if they still meet the criteria for occupying the SFA.

Where the remaining occupants of the SFA do not include the licensee (ie the member of the armed forces), the DIO will serve a 93-day notice to vacate on the occupants. However, the DIO will carry out a ‘proportionality exercise’ to establish if there is a need to postpone any legal action to regain possession at the end of the notice period. Factors such as children’s schooling, welfare and medical considerations should be taken into account.

Where a divorced or separated spouse or civil partner applies for social housing, the statutory guidance for local authorities on improving access to social housing for members of the armed forces strongly encourages local authorities to extend the exemption from local connection requirements to them.[12]

Death in service

In the event that the licensee dies whilst still in the armed forces the bereaved spouse/civil partner will be offered a two-year licence of the SFA. This period can be extended at the discretion of the local commander. However, if during the two-year period the DIO requires the property for disposal or refurbishment the bereaved spouse/civil partner will be offered alternative SFA (or SSFA).[13]

Applying as homeless

The DIO can provide a ‘Certificate of Cessation of Entitlement to Occupy SFA’ to a licensee or their family member who will be applying as homeless to a local authority on vacating the SFA.[14] The certificate should be accepted by the local authority as evidence of the date they will become homeless, without the need for a court order.[15]

Further information

Joint Service Publication 464 (JSP 464) Volume 1 is the definitive policy source document for the provision of SFA and takes primacy on all accommodation policy matters. These are also referred as the Tri-service accommodation regulations, or TSARs. JSP 464 Volume 1 is split into two parts: Part 1 contains regulations, Part 2 contains guidance.

Additional information about Service Family Accommodation can be found on

[1] paras 301-327, Pt 1, Vol 1 and Annex A to Chapter 10, Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[2] para 301, Pt 1, Vol 1 Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[3] para 110, Pt 1, Vol 1 Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[4] Sch1 Housing Act 1988, s.13 Rent Act 1977.

[5] s.80 Housing Act 1985.

[6] paras 709-717, Pt 1, Vol 1 and Clause 5, Annex A to Ch. 2, Pt 2 (Guidance), Vol 1 Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[7] paras 709-710, Pt 1, Vol 1 Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[8] Clause 5.3.3 Annex A to Ch2 Pt 2 (Guidance) Vol 1 JSP 464.

[9] para 706, Pt 1, Vol 1 Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[10] Chapter 8, Pt 1, Vol 1, Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[11] paras 715-716, Pt 1, Vol 1 Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[12] para 18 Improving access to social housing for members of the Armed Forces, MHCLG, 27 June 2020.

[13] Annex B, Ch 3, Pt 1, Vol 1 Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[14] para 724, Pt 1, Vol 1 Joint Service Publication 464, Ministry of Defence, July 2017.

[15] para 24.8 Homelessness Code of Guidance, February 2018.

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