Army families suing MoD over poor housing told to drop claims or have pay docked | Department of Defense

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Army families suing the Department of Defense over the dirt in their living quarters face “bullying” ultimatums to either drop the lawsuits or face a cut in their pay to cover court costs.

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest the threat of further financial pain amid a deepening cost-of-living crisis is being exploited by government lawyers to keep compensation cases out of court.

Hundreds of military families are understood to be seeking legal remedies at a time when the Service Family Accommodation (SFA) system has been inundated with complaints.

The Department of Defense has failed to appear to defend previously filed legal claims that the government has failed to provide safe and well-maintained homes.

Government lawyers have instead sent out aggressive letters warning that if the lawsuits are later ruled in their favor, the Department of Defense will seek full costs unless the lawsuits are dropped.

The strategy has even been used when the district court has issued a “default” ruling in favor of the military family in cases where the Department of Defense has failed to deny a claim.

In correspondence seen in that newspaper, a senior government attorney wrote: “The purpose of this letter is to make you an open offer that, if you agree to the setting aside of the default judgment, you can pursue the lawsuit by 20 a consent order proceeding (a copy of a draft attached), the Department of Defense will not claim its legal costs for this proceeding.

“However, if you do not agree to this by Wednesday, September 14, 2022, we will file the motion and recover full Department of Defense attorneys’ fees.”

In a letter to a second plaintiff, the same government attorney acting for Treasury Department counsel wrote: “If you disagree and put us through the trouble and expense of a contested application, we will recover Defense Department attorneys’ fees (what, there I have little doubt, can be recovered by deduction from your salary). Please reply no later than 4:00 p.m. on Monday, October 3, 2022.”

When approached, the attorney behind the correspondence declined to comment.

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “These cases relate to rented property outside the UK. We will not comment further on this due to ongoing legal proceedings.”

The revelations were condemned across party lines.

Shadow Defense Secretary John Healey said: “This is absolutely unacceptable. Ministers must withdraw the Defense Department’s legal dogs and drop these threats against armed forces families.

“When service families have to go to court to have basic repairs done, it confirms deep flaws in service accommodation. But the ministers don’t have a real plan to solve the problems.”

Mark Francois, a former Tory Armed Forces Minister, said: “There is clearly an urgent need for ministers to step in to clean up this terrible mess.”

Tobias Ellwood, the conservative chair of the Commons Defense Select Committee, said: “All service personnel and their families deserve a decent standard of housing.

“When they are not on duty, this is where the people in uniform spend their time and this is where the family is at home. Increasingly, it is the constraints and pressures of family life that are at play when it comes to forcing serving personnel to retire from the military.”

A whistleblower said the Department of Defense is trying to “harass” military personnel, but a growing number of military personnel are preparing to take legal action as the Department of Defense fails to ensure their housing is of an appropriate standard.

According to documents obtained by the Guardian, after a successful appeal to the District Court, a service family obtained an injunction from the Supreme Court and sent bailiffs to the Ministry of Defense’s Defense Infrastructure Organization headquarters in Lichfield, Staffordshire.

According to an Oct. 4 report of the incident, a senior Defense Department official appealed to the bailiff to leave without taking property in lieu of payment because it “could make the news.”

Alfie Usher, a former paratrooper who now runs claims management company Claims Bible, said he had received 400 expressions of interest in the past two weeks from service workers interested in taking action against the Department of Defense, which he expected 100 to meet a threshold would be a claim.

He said: “They include cases of black mold and there are reports of asbestos. A guy who found asbestos in his kitchen was told to just avoid the area. Heating also plays a major role, especially with children.

“A claim is the only way: when it starts costing them money, the Department of Defense will start listening. It’s no profit, no fee, and worst case scenario, if we make a claim, the Department of Defense will come and fix it.”

The condition of housing rented to members of the armed forces and their families has long been a cause for concern.

About 57,000 such properties were sold to Annington Homes for £1.66 billion in a 1996 deal brokered by then Defense Secretary Michael Portillo. The company is now owned by Terra Firma, the private equity giant founded by billionaire Guy Hands.

As part of the deal, the government has leased the houses for 200 years to continue to provide housing for service personnel. The Department of Defense retained responsibility for repairs and maintenance.

Unable to capitalize on the appreciation in real estate, the Department of Defense is struggling to sustain the aging housing stock.

Four years ago, the National Audit Office found that the rise in house prices meant the government was between £2.2 billion and £4.2 billion worse off than if it had kept the property portfolio.

In September, the Ministry of Defense’s Defense Infrastructure Organization was forced to apologize for the “unacceptable” service provided by three outsourcing companies awarded £650million contracts to handle complaints, housing allocation and maintenance.

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