Military families raise concerns over state of housing and delayed repairs
Military families in Shropshire have hit out over their frustration at poor service and delays in fixing major problems to their homes – leaving some without heating or running water for weeks on end.
Personnel from RAF Shawbury have revealed their concerns over the service from contractor Amey, which is responsible for maintaining their homes.
North Shropshire's Liberal Democrat MP, Helen Morgan, has now taken up the issue, and is calling for contracts to be removed from the companies involved if they do not improve.
The families have faced a host of problems in recent months, including houses with damp and mould problems due to poor insulation and leaks, pipes bursting in cold temperatures leaving families without running water, appointments being cancelled or unfulfilled with no notice, four to six-hour waits on hold to flag urgent repairs, and waits of a month or longer for repairs promised within days.
Responding to the issues, the Ministry of Defence said the situation was "unacceptable" and that it was holding urgent meetings over the problems.
Amey said it had recently changed hands and was working to ensure the problems are dealt with swiftly.
One of those at Shawbury who has been affected is 29-year-old Olympic skier Charlie Guest and her RAF pilot partner.
They were forced to go three weeks without running water and a further 10 days without heating due to repeated delays getting serious repairs.
When a pipe burst in their home at RAF Shawbury on December 17, they had to wait until January 10 for it be repaired.
The contractor described the pipework as “the worst he had ever seen” and added insulation for the first time.
Seven days layer the boiler broke. Despite it snowing outside and temperatures hovering around zero degrees centigrade, it took four days for temporary heaters to be provided and 10 days for the boiler to be fixed.
Charlie said the situation is having a major impact on personnel and their families and leading to some quitting for civilian life.
She said: “The system is broken. It’s not even a little bit broken, completely dysfunctional in its current state. It just feels like these contractors are being given money to do a job and they're just not doing anything until we expend significant energy and get outside influence involved.
“The same problems are being reported by pretty much everyone who lives here.
“The lack of urgency and lack of communication is incredibly frustrating and leads to a total distrust of the system and distrust of the people who are managing our housing.
“What is frustrating is that Pinnacle [which works with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation to provide service family homes] can see that I have logged complaints and that I have logged jobs to be done, but then there's a complete lack of communication between Amey and Pinnacle or whoever Pinnacle is using to carry out the jobs.
"There was nothing on my record that somebody had been around to my house on Wednesday to look at the boiler, so nobody could then help me any further. They had to start a new file, a new job and off we go again with two days wasted.”
She added: “The houses just don't retain heat because the build quality is so low and there's really poor insulation which leads to really high humidity and damp problems.
“So we’re having to use more heating and spend more money on bills in the middle of a cost of living crisis. I'm paying to run a dehumidifier in my bedroom because obviously I can't be sleeping in 80 per cent humidity and cold.
“This is having a really damaging impact on the community aspect of the married quarters which provides a lifeline and network for families who are constantly having to move around.
“The state of the housing and the failures of the contractors put a huge strain on relationships and on the profession and really detract from the vibrancy of the community, as partners and families are deterred from moving in as there is such a bad reputation around the management of SFA.
“The community is already smaller because of the number of houses in such a state of disrepair they can’t be lived in and the number of people being forced to live off patch.
“It is one of the biggest drivers of people leaving for civilian life where they know they’ll be better looked after.”
Other cases raised by personnel include a family that moved into Shawbury last year, to be greeted by a bedroom that was completely sodden.
They had to run a dehumidifier day and night for seven days to dry the room out after a serious leak the day before they arrived had not been cleaned up.
Having finally settled in, they have faced repeat problems with their boiler in January and had to wait two weeks for electric heaters to be provided for them and their young daughter despite them being promised on the same day.
Another long-term Shawbury resident and RAF member has had to raise multiple complaints with Pinnacle over the last 12 months for issues ranging from a broken boiler and radiator to failing street lights.
He became used to appointments being missed but thought he would at least get an urgent response when he flagged that his smoke alarm needed repair.
So far he said he has been waiting more than a month for it to be looked at.
MP Mrs Morgan, who will be meeting Amey to call for improvements, said the situation is unacceptable.
“We ask our armed forces to put their lives on the line for us. They should be able to rely on having a warm, mould-free home to live in," she said.
“I’ve been shocked to hear about the dire state of so many military homes in North Shropshire and across the country.
“It’s clear that a large percentage of forces accommodation is not up to standard and that families are being failed by contractors.
“These contractors are raking in huge fees from the Government but are not fulfilling their duty. The families I’ve spoken to are all very happy with the support they’re getting from the RAF, but this is being undermined by Pinnacle and Amey.
“Nobody should have to wait a month to have a pipe fixed in the middle of winter. Nobody should have to scrape mould off the walls or wait more than a year for their damp problem to be solved.
“These families aren’t asking for much – they’re asking for their homes to be safe, warm and dry. The Government must act to upgrade service accommodation and either properly police contractors or take their contracts off them.”
Responding to the Shropshire Star. an Amey spokesperson said: “Amey takes its responsibilities to support Armed Forces service personnel and their families extremely seriously. Having recently transferred to new owners, our top priority is resolving the issues being experienced by military personnel and their families.
"Amey’s new chairman and CEO are working closely with the DIO [Defence Infrastructure Organisation] and visiting military housing sites to ensure actions are in place to deliver the right outcomes for military families. With our rectification plans we are enhancing our capabilities and improving standards to ensure no-one is left without heating and issues of mould and damp are dealt with swiftly."
Asked about the situation, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We have been clear it is completely unacceptable some of our personnel and their families are not receiving the level of accommodation services they deserve.
"Ministers continue to receive daily updates on progress to resolve problems with service family accommodation, following urgent meetings held with the CEOs of the key contractors.
“We are introducing minimum standards and spending more than £1.6 billion over the next decade to make improvements and build new living quarters.”