The Armed Forces Covenant (AFC) was published in May 2011. The tri-Service Covenant sets the tone for Government policy aimed at improving the support available for the Armed Forces community. The Covenant outlines the Government’s aspiration that the community should face no disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services, and that where appropriate they receive special treatment. The Chain of Command is keen for families and personnel to understand the Covenant and what it means for them. The wording below has put together to provide a summary of the Covenant and its progress so far.
Last year on-board HMS ARK ROYAL, the Prime Minister spoke of his intent to ‘rebuild’ the Military Covenant. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that a new tri-Service Covenant, setting out the Government’s obligations and commitments to the Service community, would be written, and in May 2011 the Armed Forces Covenant was published. The Covenant itself is accompanied by a more detailed document, ‘The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow’, which summarises the scope of the Covenant and the future commitments being implemented to support it.
What is it?
In short, the AFC is a strategy which builds on the previous administration’s Service Personnel Command Paper to outline the Government’s aspiration that the Armed Forces community should suffer no disadvantage in accessing public or commercial services as a result of their Service, and that they should receive special treatment where appropriate. These key principles have been enshrined in law after the Armed Forces Act received Royal Assent [November 2011]; this is the first time the existence of the Covenant has been recognised in statute. This does not mean that legally enforceable rights are created for Service personnel, but it does mean that the Defence Secretary has to report annually to Parliament on performance against the Covenant with a particular focus on the areas of health, education, housing and the operation of inquests.
What does it mean to me and my family?
The Government has announced that it will honour the measures contained in the Service Personnel Command Paper, such as the ability to transfer across NHS waiting lists and improvements in dentistry and Special Educational Needs support. In addition, a number of new measures have also been outlined in the Covenant which covers healthcare, education, housing, benefits and tax, responsibility of care, deployments, family life, commercial products and services, transition, support after Service, recognition, participation as citizens, changes in Defence and recourse; RNTM 188/11 breaks these areas down further [available to personnel via the Defence Intranet].
To some, the Covenant may not seem to make an immediate difference, but the key point is that it contains a very wide range of initiatives, some of which will benefit members of the Naval Service and their families today, such as the Council Tax Relief scheme for those deployed on qualifying operations, assistance in buying a home or the doubling of the Operational Allowance, and others tomorrow. The AFC is a process, not an event and will grow and evolve; new measures can, and will be introduced as the Covenant matures but it should be remembered that the Covenant seeks to ensure that Service personnel and families suffer ‘no disadvantage’ in accessing public or commercial services as a result of their Service, and that they should only receive special treatment where appropriate.
• A Pupil Premium for Service children - a £200 per capita payment to schools attended by children of serving personnel
• A new annual £3M fund to support state schools with large numbers of Service personnel
• A £30M grant for community projects which benefit both the Service and the local community. Over £500,000 has been released as a result of bids received in the first 6 weeks of the scheme
• An increase in Council Tax relief to 50% for personnel on deployed qualifying Operations
• Launching a ‘Troops to Teachers’ scheme which aims to encourage Service leavers into teaching
• Doubling the Operational Allowance
• Changes to the Rest and Recuperation leave policies to ensure that days missed in the UK for operational reasons are added to Post Operational Leave (POL)
• The launch of the Armed Forces Bereavement Scholarship Scheme to offer scholarships to the children of those who have died in the Service of their country
• Considerable improvements to Mental Health Care.
One of the key measures of the AFC was the launch of a Community Covenant scheme. A Community Covenant is a voluntary statement of mutual support between a civilian community and its local Armed Forces community. It is intended to complement, at local level, the AFC and encourage local communities to support the Service community working or living in their area and to promote understanding and awareness. Whilst many services are controlled by central government, the Community Covenant encourages local service providers, businesses, charities and the voluntary sector to build a relationship with the Service Community to better tailor services and ensure inclusion when updating or initiating local policy. It may mean inviting a Service representative to Council meetings, adding an extra stop on a bus route to assist Service personnel and their families, ensuring that the needs Service spouses are better understood when partners are deployed or ensuring that Service children are included in youth and sports groups.
Community Covenant Grant Scheme
Sitting alongside the Community Covenant is the Community Covenant Grant Scheme which invites communities to apply for funding to run projects which strengthen the bonds between the Armed Forces and the public. Up to £30m, over four years, has been set aside by the MOD to help communities undertake projects that promote greater understanding between the military and civilian populations. The grant scheme will consider applications for funding between £100 and £250,000 to be spent on projects which will benefit both the local service and civilian community.
Are you having difficulty accessing services?
If you are having difficulties in accessing public or commercial services, you should first contact your Divisional Officer and raise the issue through your Chain of Command. Another avenue open to both you and your family is to contact the NFF. The Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA) and Service charities can provide similar advice for veterans. As well as feeding back via the Chain of Command, if you have a particular issue, such as school place allocation, there is a route for recourse with your local authority. You will need to raise the issue with your local Ombudsman, and details of this process can be found on the Local Authority’s website. It may look daunting, but the process is relatively straightforward.
The AFC Annual Report
Feedback for the AFC Annual Report is collated from a variety of sources including the Command Warrant Officers’ visits, NFF visits and website, FAMCAS and AFCAS results and, most importantly, via the Chain of Command.
Further detail can be found:
• Armed Forces Covenant Internet Website
• 2011DIB/39; The Armed Forces Covenant [Available to personnel via the Defence Intranet]
• 2011DIB/52; Launch of the Armed Forces Community Covenant Scheme [Available to personnel via the Defence Intranet]
• Armed Forces Covenant:Question & Answer Brief