Minister for the Armed Forces, Nick Harvey, has announced changes to the regulations that govern eligibility for Continuity of Education Allowances (CEA) . These changes become effective from 1 April 2011.
Under the changes, CEA rates have not been cut, however changes to eligibility rules and the governance of claims for the allowance will reduce spend. Claimants will retain the current levels of CEA support providing all eligibility criteria are met under the new rules.
The aim of CEA is to assist Service personnel to achieve continuity of education for their child(ren). It is designed to support family mobility when maintaining a stable family home in one location is not possible because of frequent assignments to different areas (both at home and overseas). However, where SP choose to serve unaccompanied, or where consecutive assignments occur within the same area, there is no requirement to support family mobility with CEA.
CEA rules will be amended in 4 main areas;
• the link between Involuntarily Separated Status (INVOLSEP) and CEA,
• the “Sibling Rule”,
• aggregation of claims,
• the number of assignments which trigger a formal review.
• A dedicated CEA team will be established under the Services Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA) to ensure probity and compliance with the CEA regulations.
In addition to these measures, the Secretary of State has directed that a review of CEA should be conducted given the current climate and the need to be clear that this expenditure is fully justified. Results of this review will be announced early in 2011.
Continuity of Education Allowances Measures in detail
A team will be established under the SPVA to ensure probity and compliance with the CEA regulations, in conjunction with existing single-Service compliance teams.
The link between Involuntarily Separated Status (INVOLSEP) and automatic eligibility to CEA for permanent assignments will be removed. This will mean that CEA claimants posted to MOD London, and certain designated positions within JFHQ (PJHQ) will no longer be eligible to claim CEA whilst serving unaccompanied.
The claiming of CEA without accompanied service on the basis of historic RN regulations for previously designated seagoing billets will also cease. This will mean that, in future, Naval Service personnel permanently assigned to a previously designated seagoing billet who are ineligible for the transitional arrangements described below will be required to demonstrate their commitment to family mobility and accompanied service by moving their family home to the Base Port in order to retain continued entitlement to CEA, provided that all other eligibility criteria are met.
Transitional arrangements have been agreed for existing CEA claimants serving unaccompanied whilst on permanent assignment to MOD London, designated positions within JFHQ (PJHQ) and Sea Service billets in Ships and Submarines, to retain the INVOLSEP concession for continued CEA eligibility until the end of their current assignment. Extant rules will then apply for subsequent appointments, therefore for the purpose of the assignment after serving INVOLSEP it will be assumed that a family move has occurred, even if the SP returns to a longstanding family home. Service personnel in possession of a permanent Assignment Order dated prior to this announcement and with a latest arrival date of prior to 1 Sep 11 to either MOD London, designated positions within JFHQ (PJHQ) and Sea Service billets in Ships and Submarines, and who intend to initially claim or to continue to claim CEA on the basis of the INVOLSEP provision, will be included in these transitional arrangements.
The “Sibling Rule” will be removed from the CEA regulations. This will mean that in future, all children will be required to demonstrate their suitability for boarding for at least 3 terms before being allowed to transfer to day schooling, should the location of the family home permit.
The Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS) will initiate a review of CEA entitlement where the claimant’s family home has not relocated during 2 consecutive assignments, rather than 3.
Aggregation will be removed from the CEA regulations. This will mean that the ability to offset more expensive school fees against less expensive ones will be removed.
In parallel with the implementation of the SDSR allowances package, the Secretary of State has directed the Minister for the Armed Forces to carry out a full review of CEA. The importance of the allowance in supporting accompanied service, and in enabling the Armed Forces to deploy personnel efficiently to meet Service needs, is well understood. Nevertheless, it represents a significant investment in a relatively small proportion of our people, and in current circumstances we need to be clear that this expenditure is fully justified. The review will consider the fundamental rationale for the allowance, look at alternatives to reliance on independent schools and at the justification for the current set of entitlements. The review will look to give greater definition post 2015.
Ministers are conscious of the need to keep the period of uncertainty about the future of CEA to a minimum, and the review conclusions will be announced well in advance of any further measures being implemented. No short term savings targets have been assumed for the review, beyond those which attach to the specific changes to CEA already agreed as part of the SDSR and set out in this brief.
The Service Personnel Board and the Chiefs of Staff will be consulted as part of the review and their views will be taken fully into account in determining its conclusions and recommendations. It will involve consultation with the Service Community, Family Federations and other stakeholders who have an interest.
In order to avoid prolonged uncertainty, Ministers have asked that the review be conducted speedily with a view to decisions being reached in the early part of 2011. The review will consult widely with the Service community and with those outside who have an interest.
Continuity of Education Allowances Questions and Answers
Q. What is CEA for?
A. CEA exists to provide Service children with the continuity of education that would be denied them in the maintained day school sector if they accompanied their parents on frequent assignments both at home and overseas. In claiming CEA, a Service person must fully accept that accompanied service is the overriding principle for maintaining entitlement.
Q. What is INVOLSEP?
A. Unaccompanied service is deemed to exist when a Service person who would normally reside with their spouse/civil partner, lives in a Residence at Work Address other than that in which their spouse/civil partner and/or dependant children normally live. Unaccompanied service for a single parent (PStat Cat 2) is deemed to exist when they are serving away from the home in which their dependant child(ren) would normally live with them. Unaccompanied service may be either Involuntary (INVOLSEP), which is generally for Service reasons, or Voluntary (VOLSEP) when the Service person chooses, for personal reasons, not to be accompanied at their Duty Station by their spouse/civil partner and/or dependant child(ren). Service personnel who are separated from their immediate family, normally for Service reasons, will be classified as INVOLSEP and eligible for benefits related to unaccompanied service in the circumstances set out in JSP 752.
Q. I want to keep my spouse/civil partner in a stable environment when I am away on duty.
A. It is not considered within the spirit of the rules for a Service parent to claim the allowance if they deliberately maintain the family home in the same location for an extended period of time, with the Service person repeatedly moving assignments between local units and with no intention or likelihood of serving elsewhere or moving the family. In these cases, the existence of a stable family home will enable the educational continuity to be achieved within the local State sector.
Q. Seagoers in particular spend more time away from home, surely being considered INVOLSEP is part of our compensation?
A. It is acknowledged that service in an Organisation such as a ship, submarine or other front-line unit is associated with an expectation of a high degree of Separated Service. Separated Service is defined as “absence from normal place of duty or lack of freedom to enjoy leisure at place of duty/residence at work address (RWA)”. Normal place of duty is defined as “the base, station, unit, establishment, or Base Port in the case of ships”. It must be stressed therefore that Separated Service in this context is not absence from family.
In broad terms, Service personnel are considered to be INVOLSEP and eligible for payment of LSA and accrual of Separated Service when at sea, but not when alongside in Base Port. Although a Sea Service billet is mandated as unaccompanied when the unit is deployed, there is no overriding Service requirement to designate such an assignment unaccompanied throughout its duration. In essence, if the Service person wishes to claim CEA, their absence when deployed at sea should not be regarded, in itself, as rendering a sufficient impediment to the requirement to move the family home and serve accompanied when the ship or submarine is alongside in the Base Port.
When a Service person applies for CEA, they must sign a CEA Eligibility Certificate declaring that they are committed to family mobility and intend to serve accompanied. By not complying with this principle, they are not meeting the requirements of the policy intent. Further, by leaving their family home static, their child(ren) could have been educated within the local maintained day school sector.
Q. What if I choose to retain SFA/SSFA at my previous Duty Station/Naval Base Port Area?
A. CEA is related to the mobility of the family, not the Service person. Entitled families occupying SFA may retain their entitlement to SFA at the location of the SP’s previous assignment. However, SFA may be provided at the new Duty Station (Base Port for ships and submarines) provided the entitlement criteria are met. By choosing not to move the family home to the new Duty Station despite having signed a CEA Eligibility Certificate, the Service person is failing to comply with the principle of accompanied service and family mobility and would not meet the requirements of the policy intent. The Service person is exercising personal choice by electing not to relocate their family to the new Duty Station; granting CEA in such circumstances would call into question the integrity of CEA as an allowance designed to provide continuity of education during periods of family mobility.
Q. What if I have been assigned to a unit that was formerly subject to the INVOLSEP concession but I have not joined yet?
A. The transitional arrangements for those currently claiming CEA allow Service personnel who, by the date of this announcement, were already in receipt of a qualifying permanent Assignment Order to either MoD London, JFHQ (PJHQ) or a Sea Service billet in a ship or submarine and who commence the assignment before 1 Sep 11, to continue to be eligible for CEA for the child(ren) for whom they were already claiming the allowance up to the end of their current assignment.
Q. What if I am in a qualifying assignment in respect of the transitional arrangements and subsequently extended in post?
A. Extensions to current assignments purely for the purpose of continued entitlement to CEA without family mobility will not be entertained. Assignment Authorities should expect to be questioned on the business needs for any extensions granted to current CEA claimants.
Q. The allowance is entitled ‘continuity of education’ - why can’t I retain CEA for my child(ren) until the end of their current stage of education?
A. It is a fundamental condition of entitlement to CEA that a child continues to attend the school and completes a stage of education for which CEA is in issue. It is for this reason that before committing to the undertaking, prospective CEA claimants are encouraged to consider taking out insurance protection to cover school fees due to a change in individual entitlement or eligibility that may result in a cessation of CEA. At a time of high operational tempo across all 3 Services and a requirement for greater financial scrutiny and governance, a general blanket exemption from the requirement to serve accompanied is no longer considered acceptable. A CEA claimant is required to complete a new CEA Eligibility Certificate immediately on arrival at each new assignment; and when the eligibility rules are no longer fully met, the individual’s CO must initiate an entitlement check with a view to ceasing the entitlement. To deviate from this accepted practice, by affording continued entitlement to CEA until the end of the current stage of education to all claimants eligible for the transitional arrangements risks damaging both the assurance measures put in place to protect this allowance and its integrity as an allowance designed to support Service family mobility.
CEA is a high-cost allowance, representing a very significant proportion of the overall annual MOD allowances budget. To safeguard CEA for those who genuinely need it, it is crucially important that adherence to the regulations is enforced.
Q. I am ineligible for the transitional arrangements set out in the DIB, but believe that I have good reasons for serving unaccompanied in my current assignment. What should I do?
A. Should a Service person who is ineligible for these transitional arrangements consider that they have genuine and compelling personal reasons for serving unaccompanied which are not satisfied by these arrangements, they may submit a case to the SPVA PACCC for consideration to be treated as INVOLSEP. The case should be fully supported by welfare, medical or Children’s Education Advisory Service reports, as appropriate.
Similarly, should a Service person have concerns that the arrangements will unduly affect the education of their child, they should consult with the CEAS. If, on conclusion of the consultation, the Service parent believes that the prescribed arrangements are unsuitable for their circumstances, then a case should be made to the SPVA PACCC, copied to the CEAS. All cases will be considered on their individual merits in keeping with the underlying rationale for CEA. Cases should be submitted in accordance with JSP 752 Ch 1, Sect 1, Annex A, Appendix 1.
Q. Why has CEA not been cut?
A. CEA rates have not been cut, but rule tightening will reduce the spend. CEA is the subject of a separate independent review instigated by the Secretary of State for Defence. This review team will report directly to the Secretary of State with their findings by early 2011.
Q. Why are CEA claimants not being asked to pay more towards the costs?
A. The current level of Parental Contribution is judged to be at the right level to ensure that all ranks that meet the criteria to claim CEA, are able to afford to do so.
Q. Will the Ministerial Review see CEA being cut?
A. It would be extremely unwise to pre-judge the outcome of the Ministerial review of CEA. A wide range of options will be considered and no assumptions have been made about what needs to change.
Q. What will the change mean for me? How much will I lose under the new rules?
A. Rates of CEA are not being cut under the changes announced today. Therefore all claimants who remain genuinely eligible will retain their current levels of CEA support assuming that all other eligibility criteria are met.
Q. What support will there be if Service personnel are judged not to need CEA anymore? How can we be expected to shoulder the cost on our pay?
A. Any SP found to be ineligible for CEA under the new rules will have a minimum of one full term’s notice of the withdrawal of entitlement. No further financial support will be made available to those who are found to be ineligible. SP currently claiming CEA on the strength of a permanent assignment to a previously INVOLSEP for CEA purposes post will be eligible for the transitional arrangements outlined in the DIB.
Q. Does MOD expect service personnel to leave because of the changes?
A. No, because all SP who remain eligible will retain access to the allowance.
Q. How many children of Service personnel will be taken out of boarding school because of these changes? How many children of those on operations?
A. The decision to remove a child from independent school will be a matter for the SP concerned, therefore the MOD cannot predict the numbers, either for those on operations or in home locations, will make this decision.
Q. How much does the MOD think it will save through these measures? Will these really make a difference to the defence budget?
A. The aim of the measure is to save 15% of the CEA spend, c £28M per year from Year 3 onwards (2013/2014)
Q. How many other allowances are to be cut?
A. Remaining allowances cuts will be announced in due course, and I cannot prejudice this announcement at this time.