In 2021, The Royal British Legion led a coalition of leading military charities in urging the UK Government to improve provisions in the Armed Forces Bill aimed at strengthening the Armed Forces Covenant in law.

Whilst we secured some positive changes, we didn’t achieve the scale of changes we had hoped. The Bill became law at the end of 2021, but our work to monitor its impact and seek future improvements continues.

The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise by the nation that all those who serve, have served and their families will not experience disadvantage because of the unique pressures and demands of military life, and that in some circumstances, special consideration may be appropriate, such as for those who have been left injured or bereaved.

The Armed Forces Act  puts the promise of the Covenant on a legal footing for the first time, but whilst the majority of the public believe it is the responsibility of national government to deliver, the UK Government has exempted itself from the new duty to give due regard to the Covenant in decision making and policy development. Instead, only some limited public bodies - mainly local councils – are subject to the new duty. This cannot be right when responsibility for many of the issues concerning our Armed Forces community rests with national government.

On behalf of the serving personnel, veterans and families we collectively support, throughout 2021 the Royal British Legion, Poppyscotland, Cobseo, SSAFA and Help for Heroes argued for national government and Ministers to be brought within scope of the new legal duty, and for the full range of policy areas protected by the Covenant to be extended to include all issues affecting the Armed Forces community, including employment, pensions, compensation, social care, and immigration.

Whilst the Armed Forces Act and the new Covenant Duty are expected to come into force later this year, the Royal British Legion believes that improvements can and should still be made. We maintain that the UK Government needs to demonstrate to the Armed Forces community that every level of government both recognises their service and sacrifice, and will act decisively to support them to lead healthy, successful and fulfilling lives. As such, we will be monitoring the implementation and impact of the new Covenant Duty across the country in the months ahead, and building a renewed case for improvements to be made to the Act’s future scope.

Open letter to the UK government from military charities on the Armed Forces Bill (July 2021)

Whether through their contribution to tackling the pandemic, or the recent commemorations of D-Day and VE Day, the unparalleled contribution of those who have served in the Armed Forces continues to be shown. The Armed Forces Covenant is the government’s and the nation’s promise that those men and women – and their families – should not be disadvantaged, and that special consideration may be appropriate, such as for the injured or bereaved.

The Armed Forces Bill currently before the UK Parliament makes welcome provision for a new legal duty on public bodies to give due regard to the Covenant. However, based on our collective experience working with the Armed Forces community, the Bill does not go far enough. The new duty would only apply to local councils and some limited public bodies delivering housing, health and education. This neither reflects the reality of how the Covenant is delivered, nor the full range of issues affecting those in the Armed Forces community.

Even where services are provided locally, they are often based on national guidance. It is therefore a major gap for national government and the devolved administrations to be exempted from the duty that will be imposed on councils and others. This is compounded by the omission of important topics including employment, pensions, compensation, social care, criminal justice, and immigration from the Bill’s scope.

Now that the Bill has returned to the Commons, we urge the UK Government and MPs to seize this rare opportunity to deliver on the promise of the Covenant. Such a move would attract widespread consensus and be a fitting recognition of the ongoing service and sacrifice of our brave men and women, and the families who support them.

  • Charles Byrne, Director General, the Royal British Legion
  • Mark Collins, Interim Chief Executive, Poppyscotland
  • General Sir John McColl KCB CBE DSO, Chairman of Cobseo, the Confederation of Service Charities
  • Chris Hughes, Chairman, Veterans Scotland
  • Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Gregory, KBE, CB, DL, Chief Executive of SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity
  • Melanie Waters, CEO, Help for Heroes
  • Jeff Harrison, Interim CEO, Combat Stress
  • Mike Ellicock, Chief Executive, Forces in Mind Trust
  • Collette Musgrave, Chief Executive, Army Families Federation
  • Maria Lyle, Director, RAF Families Federation
  • Anna Wright, Chief Executive Officer, Naval Families Federation
  • Nick Bunting OBE, Secretary General and Group CEO, Royal Air Forces Association

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