Defence chiefs are paying more than £1m a week to house staff in "emergency" accommodation, often in exclusive areas of the capital including the County Hall redevelopment near the Ministry of Defence (MoD) headquarters.
The overall bill for "substitute service accommodation", to house service personnel and families where no MoD property is available, has more than doubled to £78m in less than a decade. The bill covers the cost of private rented homes for more than 6,000 personnel – senior civil servants and officers above the rank of major – who cannot find suitable services accommodation near their place of work.
But new details released by the department have revealed that some of the most expensive bills paid by the department are for homes rented on the commercial market for some of the most senior civilian and military staff at the MoD.
As it struggles to cut billions from its annual budget, the department is paying up to £7,000 a month each to house senior personnel in exclusive areas including Chelsea, Kensington and Knightsbridge. Many work at the MoD's main offices in Whitehall.
A former defence minister claimed the last government had ordered a crackdown on the most expensive properties after being told several officials were housed in County Hall. The development, directly across the Thames from Parliament, has a gym, pool and 24-hour concierge service.
The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott, who gathered the information on the bill for Substitute Service Family Accommodation and Substitute Service Single Accommodation, said the MoD should make its senior staff settle for cheaper alternatives. "The MoD paid £72,000 in rent last year for a pad in London W2," he said. "Presumably a lot of these people are commuting into the MoD main building, but do they really need to live in the Westminster area?"
The soaring bill for housing middle-ranking officers comes on top of the £3m annual cost of Official Service Residences occupied by senior officers including the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The Army paid £108,000 to lease Princess Diana's former apartment at Kensington Palace for the former chief of the defence staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt. His successor, General Sir David Richards, was housed in the Grade II-listed Bulford Manor in Wiltshire.
A MoD spokesperson said the department had a duty to provide accommodation for staff if no MoD-owned alternative was available. "While the MoD always aims to achieve value for money, this can incur high rental costs, especially in areas such as London. The MoD continues to improve its housing stock and property is only rented as a last resort."Reuse content