Whenever you see an advertisement encouraging you to join one of the Armed Forces the emphasis is invariably on the opportunities for learning, travel and a rewarding job. You see soldiers on night manoeuvres, naval engineers fixing warships, and airmen and women saving injured soldiers and civilians. The everyday aspects and personal benefits of serving in the Army, Navy and RAF are not mentioned, but they are just as important as action. There are a significant number of benefits available to individuals serving in the Armed Forces which most people in civilian employment would envy. These benefits can be as simple as reduced travel costs but they are important.
Holidays and time off are what many people live and work for and there never seem to be enough of them in the year. Members of the forces get the thirty days’ paid annual leave every year, which is more than most people in civvy street. This leave allocation is not dependent on your rank or length of service, all serving personnel have 30 days leave a year. Compare this to the minimum paid leave allowance legally permitted for employers to give their staff, namely 20 days plus public holidays, though many private companies offer their employees up to 25 days’ paid holiday per year.
In addition to the 30 days of standard annual leave, military personnel stationed abroad may be entitled to additional leave. This additional leave can take the form of ‘Stand Down’ which is granted by a commanding officer as a reward, and ‘POTL’ (post-operational tour leave) which was introduced after the services recognised the peculiar stresses and strains that being on operations brings to members of the forces and their families.
POTL is worked out as one working day of POTL per nine days deployed. R and R (Rest and Recuperation) can also be awarded: not strictly viewed as leave but time off to recover from being on operations. In addition to leave, commanding officers may authorise leave of absence on compassionate grounds, medical grounds, maternity, paternity and adoption leave and family emergencies.
All forces personnel are entitled to free healthcare, which includes dental care. If you are stationed in the UK your health is provided by the NHS, however there may be a forces-only medical centre located at your barracks or station. If this is the case, then you can get medical treatment from fully qualified staff there, though many families still register with a local GP practice. If you are stationed overseas then the Armed Forces will provide healthcare at one of their medical centres. Treatment for more serious health issues, i.e. if you have to be hospitalised, is provided at NHS hospitals in the UK and at local hospitals if you are stationed overseas.
Dental care is provided by the NHS in the UK and military personnel and their families receive dental care from the Defence Dental Agency when they are stationed abroad.
Many people believe that housing for forces personnel is highly subsidised and you don’t have to pay council tax. However this is not entirely true. Members of the forces and their dependents may apply for Service Family Accommodation: this is located within 10 miles of the duty station if it is not located where they are stationed. The property allocated is dependent on rank if you are an officer, and the size of your family for all other ranks.
If you are single you will share your bedroom and facilities during the first phase of basic training. After that phase you will generally get your own en-suite room whenever possible. Officer cadets get their own bedroom and an ensuite shower as soon as they join up.
The costs of housing for forces personnel is lower than the market rate for private and social housing. Single living accommodation is charged at £75 per month and family accommodation can range from £60 - £600 depending on the size of the property. Council tax or rather a ‘contribution in lieu of council tax’ is not included in this cost, it is deducted from your pay at source. The costs of accommodation and a sliding contribution in lieu of council tax can be found here.
It should be noted that if you own a property and live elsewhere you can claim for the 50% second home council tax discount, as long as it is genuinely a second home. However, if you are posted overseas this discount does not apply as the property you own in the UK immediately becomes your main residence in the UK. Since 2010, however, personnel serving overseas on an average 6 month deployment are entitled to a lump sum of £600, tax free, as council tax relief paid by the MoD.
If you are unsure of your rights and discounts, more information can be found here.
Members of the Armed Forces serving abroad whose children attend fee-paying schools or who pay for childcare in the UK may be able to apply for help with these costs. Childcare is always expensive, with the average cost to raise a child from 0 -21 years old now more than £225,000. Fortunately if you are in the forces you can buy tax free childcare vouchers from MoD Childcare which is administered by Sodexo. These vouchers can be used to pay for all manner of childcare including registered nurseries, schools and after school and holiday clubs. It’s easy to buy the vouchers, just register and change some of your salary into vouchers. Tax and National Insurance is deducted on the remainder of your salary which means you could save almost a thousand pounds a year.
Members of the Armed Forces are eligible for the HM Forces Railcard, which costs £15. The holder is then entitled to a 1/3 discount on the cost of the majority of rail fares for a year. If you choose to take your children with you you can save up to 60% on child fares, though you are restricted to just four children under 16 on your card. The card can be bought via your unit’s HR team and the cost is deducted from your salary.
Pensions may not be the most thrilling things to talk or think about, however they are vitally important and, boring though it may be, everyone should see what they are entitled to. There are currently two military pension schemes for full time military personnel in operation and a third will be coming into play in April 2015.
The first scheme is the AFPS 75 scheme. It’s based on your final salary which is based on 34 years service for officers and 37 for other ranks and it pays out instantly if you retire after 16 or more years. Your widow or widower will get 50% of your pension and death in service is a lump sum of three times salary. The scheme is good if you have a short service career but not brilliant for your family if you die.
The second scheme, AFPS 05, is the scheme into which new recruits are automatically enrolled and was introduced in 2005. This scheme benefits members of the Armed Forces who have a long service career. You still know how much you will receive when you finally retire, however the amount is based on your best every 365 days earnings in the last three years and is based on all the time that you are serving up to a maximum of 40 years. A notable difference between this pension and AFPS 75 is that your widow or widower gets up to 62.5% of your pension and death in service is now 4 times your salary. After 18 years of service you can get an early departure payment which gives you a percentage of the final payment until you hit 65 when you receive the full amount.
Finally, the new scheme to which all members of the forces will transfer is AFPS 15. AFPS 15 is not a final salary scheme, rather it is calculated on a percentage of your salary each year which will be paid into a ‘pension pot’ and this is what you will receive when you retire. AFPS 15 is likely to be unpopular as it is effectively reducing pension benefits. If you want to learn more about AFPS 15, the Government has created a decent questions and answers sheet here
Many high street retailers offer members of the Armed Forces a discount. There is an official Ministry of Defence Discount Service which gives all members of the armed forces, reservists, veterans, cadets, spouses and partners and MoD civil servants discounts from high street and online retailers. Some of the companies offering discounts include National Express, Vue Cinemas, Apple, New Look, and Jack Wills. The Defence Discount Service can save serving personnel hundreds of pounds a year and additionally is an opportunity for retailers to show their support for the Armed Forces.
Statutory benefits available in the UK and abroad
A number of benefits may be claimed by current serving members of the Armed Forces, veterans and the dependents of both.
If you are currently serving in the Armed Forces abroad or in the UK you are entitled to claim child benefit if you are responsible for a child under 16. You’ll receive £20.50 for the eldest child and £13.55 for any other children each week. These payments are tax free as long as neither parent earns more than £50k a year. If a parent earns more than £50k per year a proportion is repaid via extra income tax, if they earn more than £60k a year they repay all of it via additional income tax. For more information on entitlement and claiming see https://www.gov.uk/child-benefit/eligibility
Sure Start Maternity Grant
The Sure Start Maternity Grant is a single, one off payment of £500. The aim of the grant is to help with the costs of having a baby. People are eligible to claim for their first child, a multiple birth or if they are in receipt of certain other benefits. For more information on the maternity grant see https://www.gov.uk/sure-start-maternity-grant
Tax credits can be working tax credit and child tax credit. You may receive child tax credits if you have a child and an income of up to £26k or two children and an income of up to £32,200. However you may be able to claim for child tax credits if you earn more or your circumstances are different.
Working tax credits are for low income people and families. Servicemen and women who have just joined up may be eligible for these benefits.
For more information on tax credits and how to claim them go to: https://www.gov.uk/search?q=tax+credits
The benefits available to members of the Armed Forces are many and varied and well worth claiming or investigating to see if you are eligible. It doesn’t take too long and can save you money and give you greater peace of mind. And when you are doing one of the toughest and most rewarding jobs imaginable, including putting your life in danger, then who could possibly begrudge you a few benefits?