The New Armed Forces Covenant Duty: What organisations in scope will need to know

What is the new Armed Forces Covenant Duty?

The new Covenant Duty places a legal obligation on public bodies to pay ‘due regard to the principles of the Covenant’ and requires decisions about the development and delivery of certain services to be made with conscious consideration of the needs of the Armed Forces community.

Who does the new Duty affect?

The new legal obligation impacts organisations that are responsible for delivering principally statutory functions in healthcare, education, and housing services. The Armed Forces community will be affected as beneficiaries of the new Duty.

What will the new Armed Forces Covenant Duty do?

The new Covenant Duty, coming into effect later in 2022, will raise awareness amongst organisations that provide services in healthcare, education, and housing  of how Service life can impact on the Armed Forces community, and how disadvantages can arise due to Service when members of that community seek to access key local services.

The Duty will require organisations delivering local services to pay due regard to the Covenant principles when exercising functions in the areas of housing, healthcare, and education.

“Due regard” means that organisations in scope of the Duty will need to consciously consider the unique obligations and sacrifices made by the Armed Forces; that it is desirable to remove disadvantages faced by the Armed Forces community; and that special provision may be justified in some circumstances.

Why has this new Duty been introduced?

There has been good progress under the Covenant to date, but more work is needed to improve consistency of delivery.  The increased awareness that is inherent in the new Duty will help to improve delivery as understanding grows.

There is no desire to add an administrative burden unduly on organisations.  The legislation has been designed around a Duty to pay due regard, as this is the best way to minimise any burden placed on service providers while maximising the wider impact of Covenant delivery into the future.

How will this affect the Armed Forces community?

Service life affects serving personnel, veterans, and their families in many ways.  Whether it’s through frequent house moves, separation from loved ones and support networks or unfamiliarity with civilian life, for example, they can find themselves on the back foot when accessing public goods and services.  The Covenant Duty will raise awareness amongst providers of public services, like schools and hospitals, about how Service life can impact the Armed Forces community.  In turn, this will lead to more informed policymaking as these organisations will better understand the uniqueness of Service and how this can cause disadvantage accessing these services compared to civilians.

This won’t mean that the Armed Forces community will be placed at the front of the queue.  But it will mean their circumstances will receive a fairer assessment when their cases are considered.  In this way we can help to ensure that the Armed Forces community are treated fairly now and in the future.

Key functions covered by the new Duty include issues such as: the allocation of social housing; healthcare waiting list policies; and schools’ admissions. A full list of the functions in scope of the Duty are listed at the end of this document.

What does this mean for those organisations who need to fulfil their obligations under the new Duty?

The new Duty applies to organisations responsible for delivering education, healthcare, and housing services. A range of organisations are covered by the scope of the Duty, such as local authorities, NHS trusts, and schools and academies, for example.  A full list of the organisations and functions covered by the new Duty is listed at the end of this document.

The Duty will raise awareness of the how Service life can impact on members of the Armed Forces community. This will help ensure that providers of public services consider the Armed Forces community when developing or delivering policies that affect them.  The Covenant Duty does not mandate what organisations must do – only that they must consider the Armed Forces community alongside other legal requirements.  This allows affected organisations the flexibility to balance local needs within the local context.

What support is available for organisations to help them apply the new law?

The MOD has produced guidance to help affected organisations to understand and comply with the Covenant Duty.  This explains the Armed Forces Covenant, and includes examples of where disadvantage can arise, of good practice, and other useful information.  The draft guidance is available here.

Warwickshire County Council has also developed an e-learning training module designed to raise awareness of the Armed Forces Covenant generally, which can be found here.

The MOD’s Armed Forces Covenant team gave a useful update (here) on the Covenant Duty and its accompanying Statutory Guidance at its recent Covenant in the Community Conference:

Some other existing useful resources, such as the Local Authority Guide to the Covenant, best practice websites and links to relevant organisations can be found here on the Armed Forces Covenant website.

In addition, we are working with stakeholders to produce training and communication materials, such as webinars and slide shows, to help to explain the scope and aims of the Duty, which we will share over the coming months as the Duty takes effect.  These can be accessed through the Armed Forces Covenant website when they become available and will be promoted in our webpage news updates and in our ongoing engagement with stakeholders.

When will the new Duty come into effect?

The new Duty is expected to come into force later in 2022, once the Statutory Guidance supporting the new Duty has been approved by both Houses of Parliament following debates in the autumn.

Where does it apply?

The Covenant Duty applies to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Organisations who need to comply with the new law:

England:

  • Local authorities
  • Governing bodies of maintained schools and further education institutions
  • Proprietors of Academies
  • Non-maintained special schools and special post-16 institutions
  • NHS England, Integrated Care Boards, NHS Trusts and NHS Foundation Trusts

Wales:

  • Local authorities
  • Governing bodies of maintained schools
  • Local Health Boards, Special Health Authorities, and NHS Trusts

Scotland:

  • Local authorities and local authority landlords
  • Integration authorities, Health Boards, Special Health Boards, and the Common Services Agency for the Scottish Health Service
  • Persons or bodies whose help is requested under section 23 of the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004

Northern Ireland:

  • The Northern Ireland Housing Executive
  • The Education Authority and the Board of Governors of a grant-aided school
  • The Department of Health (Northern Ireland), but only when exercising the relevant healthcare functions in scope of the Duty that were exercised by the former Regional Health and Social Care Board prior its dissolution
  • Local Commissioning Groups, and Health and Social Care Trusts

Public services provided by organisations affected by the new law:

Healthcare:

  • Provision of healthcare services
  • Planning and funding
  • Co-operation between bodies and professionals

These three healthcare functions are within scope of the Duty in the following settings:

  • NHS Primary Care services, including general practice, community pharmacies, NHS dental, NHS optometry services and public health screening services.
  • NHS Secondary Care services, including urgent and emergency care, hospital and community services, specialist care, mental health services, and additional needs services (as applicable).
  • Local authority-delivered healthcare services, including sexual health services and drug and alcohol misuse services.

Education:

  • Admissions
  • Educational attainment and curriculum
  • Child wellbeing
  • Transport
  • Attendance
  • Additional needs support
  • Use of Service Pupil Premium funding (England only)

These education functions are within scope of the Duty in compulsory education settings, that is, primary, secondary, and, for England only, compulsory further education.  The Duty does not cover nursery (early years education), higher education, or other voluntary adult education settings.

Housing:

  • Allocations policy for social housing
  • Tenancy strategies (England only)
  • Homelessness
  • Disabled Facilities Grants
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