Soldiers at London Poppy Day

The Armed Forces Covenant Duty - One Year On

The Armed Forces Covenant Duty was introduced in November 2022 as part of the Armed Forces Act 2021. It creates a new legal duty on specified public bodies “to have due regard to the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant when exercising certain statutory functions in the fields of healthcare, education and housing.”

In autumn 2023 we held conversations with 24 organisations now implementing the new Covenant Duty in England, Scotland, and Wales, reflecting on one year since the Duty was introduced. This is what they had to say.


  • Understanding of the new Duty is high, and relevant organisations found the statutory guidance helpful.
  • The Duty has led to a wide variety of action. Some organisations have been inspired to trigger a wholescale review of their Armed Forces Covenant commitment and processes, while others have concluded that they were meeting the requirements of the Duty already and have changed little.
  • The Duty’s biggest perceived success is its raising of awareness of the Armed Forces community.
  • The Duty’s biggest perceived challenge is its resource demands with no new resource coming from central government.
  • Organisations will continue to learn new ways to deliver better services to the Armed Forces community and new ways to meet the Duty.
  • Experience suggests that expanding the scope of the Duty will deliver even more improved services to the Armed Forces community.
  • We are yet to encounter or be made aware of a complaint being raised through the Covenant Duty.

How helpful and well understood is the new Covenant Duty?

The detail of how to deliver the new Covenant Duty was provided in statutory guidance issued in November 2022. Overall, the organisations we spoke to said that the Guidance was easy to understand and helpful.

“Yes, really helpful. I keep referring to it.”

The organisations in the scope of the new Duty regularly responded that they were accustomed to receiving new legislation and guidance from Government and that this Duty slotted into those well-established processes. Organisations used a range of ways to pass on requirements to staff, highlights include:

  • Staff e-learning.
  • Webinars.
  • Organisation intranet.
  • Informal team meetings.
  • Formal briefing sessions.
  • Communications from the Chief Executive and Legal Officer.
  • Presentations from the Ministry of Defence community engagement teams.

One year on, there was a general feeling that the new Duty was well understood but this sat alongside an acknowledgement that there were variations in how deep this understanding went and that organisations will always be learning and improving how they deliver the Duty.

“I don't think any authority will ever be 100%.”

What actions did you take in response to the new Duty?

We asked what immediate actions respondents took after the introduction of the Duty. Their answers illustrate the breadth of priorities and the varying position of many organisations prior to the introduction of the Duty.

“We were doing everything already. If anything, the guidance was simply putting a label on our work and re-affirmed our strategy moving forwards.”

A small number of respondents said that they were already delivering on the requirements of the Duty, while the majority were inspired to carry out actions such as:

  • Briefing the authority’s leadership, senior management, and all councillors.
  • “Literally the first thing is ‘OK, who's responsibility is this?’”
  • Recruiting Armed Forces Champions.
  • Reviewing and revising the relevant polices.
  • “The renewal of the covenant. That was our first and primary action.”
  • Reaching out to the local Armed Forces community and meeting them.
  • Engaged all the bodies in scope: council, education providers and health providers.
  • Creating an action plan.
  • Gathering information and data on the local Armed Forces community.
  • Issuing guidance and training for frontline staff.
  • Re-established a Civilian Military Partnership Board.
  • Sent bulletins to local head teachers.
  • Working towards Employer Recognition Scheme accreditation.
  • Identifying veterans by asking whether someone has served when they register or access services.
  • Updated website with new Armed Forces information.

Respondents were also specifically asked what action they had taken to create a mechanism for showing and recording that ‘due regard’ had been given to the Covenant Duty in their decision making. It is apparent that not all organisations have got the hang of this yet, but some actions include:

  • A number of organisations have or are in the process of embedding due regard for the Covenant Duty into their existing equalities impact assessments. This ensures that the Duty will always be considered in policy making.
  • One respondent had created a bespoke equivalent of an equality impact assessment, known as an ‘Armed Forces Covenant Duty Analysis’. This looks at how policy and service delivery relate to the Duty functions, whether disadvantage exists, and whether special provisions are required.
  • Each department will keep its own records on their decision making.
  • Annual reports to council cabinet on the Armed Forces Covenant will now include a report on the Duty.
  • Via reporting the Armed Forces Covenant Board.

What are the Duty’s big successes?

Resoundingly from our respondents, the biggest success of the new Duty can be described in one word:


The Duty’s introduction has been a catalyst for organisations looking in detail at the Armed Forces community and the services they provide to them. Politicians and public service staff have directed more focus on the Armed Forces, and looked seriously at their needs and what can be done to better support them.

“Greater engagement, greater publicity, greater awareness.”

Other highlights include:

  • Creating a dedicated webpage.
  • Setting up an Armed Forces forum.
  • Established Covenant Duty working groups across the organisation.
  • Developed in-house, bespoke, e-learning for staff.
  • Started asking the question across all council services and hospital discharges.

“The main one would be that it has been positively embraced. Organisations can be resistant to change, especially when there are resourcing issues. It has been very positively embraced across the different directorates, which means it's been a pleasure to work on.”

These cited successes focused on improvements to organisational process. It is not yet possible to fully understand the impact on outcomes to the Armed Forces community.

What are the Duty’s big challenges?

The most common responses to this question were in relation to funding and increased demands on time. Local authorities and health bodies in particular cited the lack of funding and the additional burdens on staff time required to implement the Duty.

“It didn’t come with resource… giving us more things to do, while we have less money; that’s the biggest problem.”

“It is extremely time consuming, and I just wonder if some people who are not so passionate about it just treat it as a process.”

Additional challenges raised were:

  • Monitoring and reporting within the organisation, departments do not always communicate with each other.
  • Sharing information in real time with local partners was difficult.
  • The Duty does not solve the underlying problems that the Armed Forces community face, and the wider community face. An example that was raised was social housing. Applicants for housing from the Armed Forces community still face long waits because there simply is not enough stock.
  • High staff turnover in organisations is detrimental to continuity of knowledge.

“They do their best with what they have got.”

Education and Health

Most of our conversations were held with local authorities, so here we draw out highlights about the Duty from conversations with education and health bodies.

“I think the understanding has improved massively, but I still think there’s a way to go, particularly around schools.”

  • Education was described as “one of the most challenging” by one council in England as all the schools in this particular area were now academies.
  • Numerous contributors from Wales highlighted how helpful briefings and training offered by SSCE Cymru to schools had been, which helped explain their obligations under the new Duty.
  • One council commented that Ofsted did not appear to understand the Duty and were disinterested in a school’s demonstration of efforts to support Armed Forces children.

“I think there needs to be a much bigger push on health. I know the NHS are completely strained, but primary care is one of those key entry points.”

  • Taking part in GP awareness schemes; now available in Scotland, Wales, and England; were highlighted as a common action for GPs to take to increase staff understanding of the Armed Forces.
  • Many bodies have begun regular identification of Armed Forces service users by ‘asking the question’ and improved record keeping of that information.
  • Identification allows signposting directly into Armed Forces specific support when patients leave hospital.
  • Integrated Care Boards and councils are collaborating on research to understand the local Armed Forces population and their healthcare needs. One organisation admitted that this would not have happened were it not for the Covenant Duty.
  • Council officer said it was difficult to clarify the Duty’s applicability in the health function – “Obviously the NHS is responsible for their own health elements, and how do we link in with that? We have social care, which isn’t in the scope of the Duty”.

How would you like to see the Covenant Duty develop further in coming years?

“It’s not something you can just implement once, but something you need to consistently enforce. As people change in posts and new team members join, you need ensure correct and up-to-date training is in place.”

Nearly all respondents comment that the Duty will require ongoing work to embed in organisations and to improve the delivery of public services to the Armed Forces community. Specific suggestions to aid in that included:

  • Sharing good practice and networking with organisation Armed Forces Champions, staff, and the Armed Forces community.
  • “Some meetups with other Armed Forces champions and lead officers.”
  • Updated documentation and templates. One respondent observed that they are still coming across guidance from 2011 which is confusing and no longer relevant.
  • “More funding for the local council to deliver local projects and support services.”

Some respondents commented that the scope of the Duty itself ought to be expanded in order to deliver better public services to the entire Armed Forces community. It was often remarked that the improvements in service delivery to the polices areas in scope of the Duty could be passed on to other areas if the Duty were expanded to include more policy areas and more public service providers.

“I would like to see an extension to central government. They have put the Duty on other people, but not themselves.”

Local authorities and health services frequently raised social care as a policy area for future inclusion in the Duty. Its omission is resulting in confusion for services users, inconsistent support, potential disadvantage, and a lack of comprehensive care.

“It would be good to involve social care, because I do think that you can't remove it from health and education. It's part of the same thing, so I think it would make sense to do that.

It would make sense to include social care. You’ve got health in there already, and they go hand in hand almost now.”

RBL are already calling for the Covenant Duty to be expanded to include the UK and devolved governments and all policy matters. For more details of this and the importance of social care being covered by the Covenant Duty, please see our General Election Manifesto 2024.

Have there been any complaints raised against the Duty?

The new Duty came with a dispute resolution process in the statutory guidance. We asked respondents if they were aware of any complaints raised in their organisations and all replied that they were not.

Thank you to our contributors

We are grateful to the following organisations for giving their time and thoughts to this work. We are also grateful to a further seven contributors from Scotland, England and Wales who wished to remain anonymous.

  • Bath and North East Somerset Council
  • Bracknell Forest Council
  • Carmarthenshire County Council
  • Cumberland Council
  • Dumfries and Galloway Council
  • East Riding of Yorkshire Council
  • Hackney Council
  • Lancashire Armed Forces Covenant Hub
  • Lancashire County Council
  • London Borough of Barnet
  • London Borough of Bromley
  • London Borough of Ealing
  • London Borough of Sutton
  • London Borough of Waltham Forest
  • Manchester City Council
  • South East Reserve Forces & Cadets Association
  • West Berkshire Council

Share this page with someone

Other campaigns

Our campaigns look to improve the lives of everyone in the Armed Forces community and make sure their voice is heard
Learn about our other campaigns
Back to top