When the Ministry of Defence sold its armed forces housing in 1996, it already looked a bad deal: 57,000 houses were sold for £30,000 each, well under half the average house price at the time. Overnight, the sale created Britain’s biggest private landlord and gave it a blue chip tenant – the MoD. Yet the company that won the contract, Annington, had just been set up and had no experience of management on such a scale.
Soldiers and their families have to live close to their work, which usually means in houses built on or near military bases, often three-bed semis with ample gardens. For decades they were managed directly by the MoD. The task isn’t straightforward: soldiers may be away for months at a time, they can be moved around at short notice and the bases are often far from towns and public services. The MoD was also badly behind with repairs: by 1996, a backlog of over £400 million of work had accumulated.