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Living in service family accommodation Q&A

Get answers to common advice questions about living in service family accommodation including the proposed future accommodation model, disrepair rights and universal credit.

Published June 2024.

What is service family accommodation?

Service family accommodation (SFA) is for serving members of the armed forces who are married or have children. The size of accommodation offered depends on rank and family size.

SFA is allocated by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

When SFA is not available, families can be offered substitute service family accommodation (SSFA). SSFA is leased by the Ministry of Defence or its contractor and then allocated to the qualifying personnel.

Members of the armed forces who are unmarried but cohabiting are not entitled to service family accommodation. If there are unoccupied properties, they can be offered surplus service family accommodation.

What does the future accommodation model mean for my client?

The government proposed a new process for allocating armed forces accommodation and launched the Future Accommodation Model pilot, which finished in 2023.

The future accommodation model planned a major change as it proposed to allocate housing based on need rather than rank. This would mean, for example, that a member of the armed forces with two children would be entitled to a larger property than a married member of a higher rank without children.

There were significant objections to the future accommodation model proposals, and the plans were put on hold in February 2024.

This summer's general election means the future of the proposals is uncertain. For the moment, your client's entitlement should remain the same, unless there is a change in their family circumstances.

My client has disrepair issues - what are their rights?

The rights of SFA residents to take action on disrepair come from their occupation agreements. Your client should check exactly what their agreement says about timescales for repairs.

Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 doesn’t apply to people living in SFA. For most tenancies section 11 determines when a landlord is responsible for repairs. This doesn't apply because SFA is not a qualifying tenancy - as the accommodation is owned by the Ministry of Defence, it’s a crown tenancy and is excluded from section 11.

However, this doesn't mean that someone residing in SFA should have to put up with poor conditions, and residents still have rights to get repairs sorted.

How occupiers can report problems

Occupants of service family accommodation can report disrepair problems to Pinnacle's National Service Centre. Pinnacle are contracted to manage SFA accommodation on behalf of the DIO.

Pinnacle classify all repairs as either 'Emergency', 'Urgent' or 'Routine'. Emergency repairs, such as fires, water or gas leaks, should be attended to within two hours. Urgent repairs should be attended to as soon as possible and at least within 48 hours, and routine repairs within 12 days.

Substitute service family accommodation (SSFA) is provided to qualifying personnel when there are no SFA properties available. SSFA is managed by the Mears Group on behalf of the DIO and repairs should be reported to the Mears Group directly.

Increasing disrepair problems in SFA

Your client is not alone in experiencing disrepair problems in SFA accommodation. Reports show that disrepair is a growing problem in service family accommodation. A report published by the Kerslake Commission in April 2024 found that service family accommodation:

'for many service personnel and their families is sub-standard and affects their health and wellbeing. This in turn reduces the operational effectiveness and efficiency of the armed forces.'

The Kerslake Commission also found that the Service Centre has seen an increase in reports recently - for example, the number of reports for damp and mould problems in 2023 was over 10,000, more than double than in 2022.

Can my client claim universal credit for help with housing costs in SFA?

Payment for service family accommodation is usually taken directly from the pay of the member of the armed forces.

It is possible for a member of the armed forces and their family to claim universal credit to help with their housing costs in service family accommodation.

Whether any particular family can receive universal credit will depend on their overall income. Families should complete a benefits check to see if they are eligible.

Residents who are not eligible for universal credit housing costs

Some residents of SFA are unable to claim universal credit housing costs element. For example, this is the case where a former member of the armed forces or a family member remains in occupation after their entitlement ends, and the 93 day notice from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation has expired.

In this situation the Ministry of Defence will charge what is known as 'mesne profits' (pronounced 'mean') instead of rent. Mesne profits cannot be paid by universal credit housing costs, so in this situation the family won't be able to get any help with housing costs from universal credit.

The Army Families Federation has called for this to change:

'AFF will continue to raise this issue and the severe financial disadvantage this cohort face being unable to claim UC housing costs.

If you have been affected by this issue, please contact as your evidence helps us build a picture of the issue.'

Where can my client get help with service family accommodation?

Occupants of SFA can contact Pinnacle Service Families by phone, email or online with questions about service family accommodation.

Armed forces veterans who need help with service family accommodation can also contact Veterans' Gateway by phone, online chat or email. Veterans' Gateway also supports the family members of veterans, including separated spouses or partners.

Veterans' Gateway advisers also have access to expert housing consultancy and advice from Shelter's Expert Advice Service and can refer for further casework where needed to Shelter's Helpline Plus service.

Find out more about where to get help with housing as a veteran on Shelter Legal.

Find out more

Shelter Legal

Service family accommodation

Possession of service family accommodation

Future accommodation model Future accommodation model: what you need to know - last updated July 2023

BBC: Ministry of Defence pauses new Army housing plans after backlash - February 2024

Disrepair in service family accommodation

KCL: Kerslake Commission report on Armed Forces Housing

Pinnacle: Pinnacle Service Families Service Centre

Mears Group: Substitute accommodation service

Army Families Federation: Mould in SFA/SSFA

Universal credit in service family accommodation

Shelter Legal: Where to get advice about benefits and grants

Army Families Federation: Benefits, national insurance and tax

Shelter Legal: Who can claim universal credit

Where to get help with service family accommodation

Pinnacle: Pinnacle Service Families Service Centre

Veterans' Gateway: Get help

Shelter Legal: Where to get help with housing as a veteran

About the author

Madeleine Hunter is a legal content producer and former housing adviser at Shelter.