Soldiers back from battle will jump queue for homes in Barnet

Troops returning from battle in Afghanistan will jump the housing queue, thanks to a ground-breaking scheme in Barnet.

And now the Prime Minister David Cameron wants the new housing rules – which apply to servicemen and women who have lived in borough for six months before enlisting – rolled out nationally.

In early April, Barnet completely changed the way it allocates social housing, introducing a new band of preference for returning soldiers at the same time.

“We re-worked our whole policy because it was a cumbersome system that was not working for residents,” said the new leader of Barnet Council, Richard Cornelius.

“One of the things we wanted to give preference to was people in work and trying to get work and in this shake-up we also decided to give ex-service people as high a banding as possible.

“They don’t quite go to the top of the list – that is reserved for people who are being beaten up and flung on to the street – but they are one notch down from that.”

Cllr Cornelius said the council made the changes because they felt a moral obligation to the men and women who had gone out to fight on behalf of Britain.

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He said: “They are actually doing something very important and they are doing it for this country.

It is a pretty ghastly thing to be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan and we believe that they are doing it for us, not because they want to be there.

“Often they get a shaky deal from the government and we want to make sure we give them all the help we can.”

Other key workers – such as nurses – will not be given the same step-up and the new rules may make it even harder for them to get housing as servicemen and women overtake them in the queue.

However, Mr Cornelius argues that this order of preference is fair. “Nurses are making a wonderful contribution,” he added, “but they are not actually putting their life on the line – or at least they shouldn’t be.”

Currently, local authorities dealing with social housing applications are only obliged to give “reasonable preference” to certain groups of people, such as those who are homeless, living in overcrowded accommodation or have a medical need.

But the government wants council’s to follow Barnet’s lead and recognise the special sacrifices soldiers make for their country.