1.0 Introduction

This article provides an overview of flexible service in the British Armed Forces.

As of 01 April 2019, Regular personnel in the British Armed Forces can apply for flexible service, meaning they can apply to work part-time or limit how often they are separated from their workplace (aka duty station).

The introduction of the flexible service policy means personnel needing extra flexibility – for example, carers or those wishing to study – can change their work schedule for a set period of time to do this.

It is believed that this modernisation of the Armed Forces terms and conditions of service (TACOS) will aid the attraction of recruits who may not otherwise join and retain talent that might otherwise leave.

The policy follows feedback from the Armed Forces 2018 continuous attitude survey, which found just a third of other ranks personnel felt able to balance personal lives and work

This article will outline what flexible service is, its purpose, and why it is important. It will provide a brief history of flexible service, who can apply and the types available. The article will also note some important time periods and factors to consider when applying for flexible service. Finally, the article will provide some useful publications and links for the reader.

2.0 What is Flexible Service?

Flexible service is formed of two elements:

  1. Part-time working; and
  2. Restricted separation.

Flexible service combined with working from home, variable start and finish times, and compressed hours, is known as flexible working (Section 7.0).

3.0     What is the Purpose of Flexible Service?

“Flexible duty, which doesn’t attract any negative career implications, permits highly committed soldiers and officers to remain in service when they may otherwise be forced or inclined to leave.” (Soldier, 2017c, p.15).

Flexible service facilitates a number of objectives (Soldier, 2017c):

  • To better support personnel circumstances (individuals and their families) at a particular stage in their life;
  • To retain highly trained and motivated other ranks and officers;
  • To better reflect society; and
  • To enable the Armed Forces to become a more modern and flexible employer whilst preserving operational capability.

Ultimately, flexible service, alongside other flexible working arrangements, will enable the Armed Forces to attract recruits and retain personnel.

4.0 Why Flexible Service?

“We need to modernise in order to continue to recruit and retain the quality and quantity of people we need, accessing the breadth of UK society that we serve, which ensures that the armed forces continue to deliver operational capability. Increasing the range of our flexible working options will help to retain more people and keep our hard won skills, so improving efficiency for the services while being better for our people.” (MOD, 2017).

With the planned reductions in the numbers of Service personnel and low levels of unemployment, the MOD has had to react to labour market conditions and introduce flexible service to aid attraction and retention rates.

It is already with the power of the chain of command to deal with short-term or one-off events such as a parent’s evening or car service. Flexible service does not look to alter that relationship but provide guidance and consistency for longer-term arrangements so that the individual and line manager have a degree of certainty. Individuals will also have clarity on how flexible service will impact their terms and conditions of service (TACOS).

Simply put, flexible service will:

  • Enable part-time service among Regular personnel;
  • Allow personnel to apply to limit the time they spend away from their home base and families; and
  • Enable personnel to have more flexibility through variable hours, home working, career breaks, and extra leave.

“The policy does not affect the various other flexible working options that exist for some troops, including compressed hours, working from home and variable start and finish times.” (Soldier, 2019a, p.11).

5.0    Brief History

Published in 2015, the Flexible Working policy introduced flexible working arrangements such as working from home (or another MOD location closer to home), variable start and finish times, and compressed hours for members of the Armed Forces.

Published in the ‘National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015’ on 23 November 2015, the UK government stated:

“We will make the changes necessary to enable our Armed Forces to work flexibly, reflecting the realities of modern life.” (HM Government, 2015, p.31).

On the basis of this statement the Flexible Engagements System (FES) Project was established with the remit of examining how the Ministry of Defence (MOD) could improve the then existing flexible working opportunities for Service personnel, such as the flexible leaves types introduced in 2015 and the Flexible Duties Trial in 2017.

The FES Project Team, led by an OF-5 level officer, was responsible for the development of the enhanced flexible working arrangements. FES was one of four change projects co-ordinated by the Armed Forces People Programme (AFPP) – the others being the Future Accommodation Model (FAM), Enterprise Approach (EA), and New Joiner Offer (NJO) (HM Government, 2017).

It was envisaged that the flexible working options to be considered would provide opportunities for regular personnel to request temporary periods of part-time working and/or limits to separated service for periods of a few years only.

In January 2017, it was reported that the Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) system had been updated so that requests, by regular personnel, for flexible working and certain leave options could now be made online and included (Soldier, 2017a):

  • Regular working from home;
  • Compressed hours;
  • Variable start and finish times;
  • Enhanced leave;
  • Call forward of leave;
  • Transfer of leave between Service spouses or civil partners;
  • Career intermissions; and
  • Special unpaid leave.

The Flexible Duties Trial started in March 2017 and was originally due to complete in March 2018 (Soldier, 2017b). However it was later extended, in February 2017 (Soldier, 2017c), to September 2018 (latest date of application to take part), finishing in March 2019. Participants had to commit to a minimum of six months and could only cover their current assignment (Soldier, 2017c).

The purpose of the Flexible Duties Trial was to (MOD, 2018):

  • Test the ability of reduced commitment working to respond to the Defence’s changing manpower requirements;
  • Improve recruitment and retention by meeting the demands of Service personnel; and
  • Inform the development of the new flexibilities, their associated processes and dedicated TACOS.

Part of the New Employment Model (NEM), the trial gave personnel the option of reducing their liability for deployment and/or taking up to 93 days’ unpaid leave in separate stints rather than in a single block. There were three types of flexible duties during the trial (MOD, 2018):

  • Full-Time; Limited Deployability (FD1):
    • Not liable for operational deployment or long separation.
    • Liable for short separations and separation within the working routine.
  • Less than Full-Time; Limited Deployability (FD2):
    • Able to use up to 93 days unpaid leave to work less than full-time.
    • Not liable for operational deployment, long separation or short separations.
    • Separation in accordance with the agreed working routine.
  • Less than Full Time; Full Deployability (FD3):
    • Able to use up to 93 days unpaid leave to work less than full time.
    • Liable for operational deployment and separation within the working routine, but not liable for long separation or short separations.
    • Those on FD3 remained liable to undertake any training needed to remain eligible for deployment.

Personnel serving in Defence Equipment and Support were not eligible (Soldier, 2017b), but others “within the joint environment” were (MOD, 2018). Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Marines (RM) personnel working within the RN top level budget (TLB) were not able to take part owing to the unlimited liability for sea service and high readiness at which personnel are held.

In July 2017, it was reported that 46 Army personnel had applied to temporarily work part-time and/or, limit their deployability through the Flexible Duties Trial (Soldier, 2017d), although eventually there were between 50 and 100 personnel involved during the trial (MOD, 2018; Soldier, 2019a).

On 10 July 2017, the Flexible Engagement Survey commenced, lasting for three weeks (Soldier, 2017d).

On 08 February 2018, the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Act 2018, Chapter 2, received Royal Assent. The Act, which made amendments to the Armed Forces Act 2006, made provision for members of the Regular Forces to serve part-time or subject to geographic restrictions.

In February 2018, the MOD stated that the FES Project would be examining how it could improve flexible working opportunities within the Armed Forces, “building upon existing flexible working and the experiences drawn from the Flexible Duties Trial.” (HM Government, 2018).

From 16 March 2018 to 13 April 2018, the MOD ran a consultation on the “New Flexible Service Opportunities for Armed Forces Personnel and their Implications for the Armed Forces Pension Schemes” (Cobesco, 2018).

“Flexible service opened to the Army on Feb 1, 2019.” (Soldier, 2019b, p.55).

Royal Air Force (RAF) and British Army applicants could apply from 01 February 2019, whilst Royal Navy applicants could apply from 01 April 2019 (MOD, 2019).

The Armed Forces (Terms of Service) (Amendments Relating to Flexible Working) Regulations 2018 (SI 2018/1166), which came into force on 01 April 2019, introduced flexible working across the Regular Forces of the British Armed Forces (Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army and RAF). The Regulations amended the terms of service of enlisted personnel who are not commissioned officers to allow for two types of flexible working (collectively known as flexible service):

  • Part-time working allowed personnel to agree days on which they are not required to be available for active service:
  • “Service on a restricted separation basis” enabled restrictions to be placed on the number of days on which personnel can be required to perform duties away from a specified place.

In April 2019, the Army started a project called flexible service two, which examined the roles of Regulars and Reservists and how they work together (Soldier, 2019a). It involved looking at the full range of commitment – for example, a Reservist might want to be able to dial their service up and down as circumstances change. However, the project was considered ambitious because there are different acts of parliament governing part- and full-time soldiers.

“It’s better to lose somebody for a day a week in the short-term than on a permanent basis if a soldier’s personal circumstances mean a job becomes impossible.” (Soldier, 2019a, p.11).

There is an expectation that the Services will “create new part-time Reserves roles to undertake some of the work.” (RAF-FF, 2018) that will occur as a result of Regular personnel undertaking flexible service.

6.0     Who Can Apply for Flexible Service?

“While everyone, whether military or civilian, can ask for flexible working, it is up to the line manager to decide whether this can be agreed, taking into account the effect that flexible working might have on the delivery of outputs and the rest of the team.” (MOD, 2019, p.2).

Although anyone can apply for flexible service, “…not every job can accommodate a flexible working pattern… (MOD, 2019, p.2), as any flexible working arrangement is dependent on the:

  • Ability of the individual’s unit to maintain operational capability; and
  • Operational demands on the individual’s trade or specialisation more widely.

In order to be eligible personnel will need to have:

  • Completed their Phase 1, basic training;
  • Completed their Phase 2, initial trade/employment training; and
  • Served for 24 months at their initial posting.

For an Infantry soldier this could be approximately two years and six months, for technical trades this could be longer.

In practice, flexible service is more likely be approved for those individuals who are not serving in front-line or high-readiness units.

7.0     Types of Flexible Working

There are several different types of flexible working, including:

  • Flexible service:
    • Part-time working:
      • Can request a 20% or 40% reduction in normal working pattern (cannot reduce by more than 40%).
      • Usually one or two days’ reduction in a five day week, although other routines could be agreed.
      • For planning purposes, the flexible service policy takes a working week as a 5-day week.
      • The baseline is the working routine of the particular organisation the individual works at.
      • Should include a proportionate reduction in the individual’s weekend/stand-down duty liability (equivalent to one or two weekends in five).
      • Can be combined with restricted separation.
    • Restricted separation:
      • Restricts the amount of time an individual will spend away from their normal home base (where they have their residence at work address) for no more 35 days per year.
      • Individuals will still have liability for some separation, for example, to attend courses and duties. However, they will not be eligible for longer deployments, such as 6 month operational tours.
      • Can be combined with part-time working.
  • Working from home (or another MOD location closer to home).
    • ‘Ad hoc’ basis is where, occasionally, the individual’s chain of command allows them the opportunity to work at home to complete a particular task or project.
    • This is an informal arrangement and no written agreement is required.
    • Regular basis is more formalised and a written agreement is required.
    • It can also be useful for a specified period to help an individual through a period of personal difficulty.
    • For both of the above, working time is still shared between home and the workplace.
    • MOD laptops may not be available for all flexible service applicants, therefore working from another MOD location or MODBOX may be an appropriate alternative.
  • Variable start and finish times:
    • Enable the individual to start and finish their working day at different times from those considered to be the ‘norm’ within their workplace.
    • However, the total number of hours worked will not be less than those considered to be normal for the individual’s role.
  • Compressed hours:
    • This means working full-time hours in a shorter timeframe, either working the normal number of agreed hours over a reduced number of days, or doing some longer days to allow a shorter day in the week.
    • A variation might be a reduced number of hours in one week, followed by an increase in the next to make up the difference.
    • Should not lead to an overall reduction in hours worked.

These arrangements may be combined and there are also flexible leave arrangements that individuals can take advantage off (Section 14.0).

8.0     Process for Flexible Service

A general description of the process for flexible service is outlined below:

  • Change in circumstances:
    • A change in personal responsibilities or circumstances may make full-time, fully deployable, service unworkable for the individual.
  • Informal application:
    • Speak to chain of command; this will usually be the individual’s immediate line manager.
    • Early discussion can be useful to establish what might, or might not, work for the individual and unit.
    • No right be granted but do have (legal) right to apply (subject to eligibility criteria).
    • Do not have to give a specific reason to be eligible, but can be useful for the chain of command in considering the individual’s application.
    • Type of flexible service/working applying for.
    • JPA:
      • Requesting working from home, variable start and finish times and/or compressed hours is done through JPA self-service.
      • If a request cannot be supported, it should still be recorded (and declined) on JPA.
      • There is no need to formally apply for one-off or ad hoc arrangements on JPA, only enduring flexible working arrangements need to be recorded.
  • Formal application:
    • Individuals can apply through (MOD, 2019) JPA, chain of command, unit Human Resources (HR) department, and career manager before an approval authority makes a final decision.
    • Officially through JPA with workflow to Commanding Officer (CO) for input.
    • After CO input workflow to approval authority.
    • Career manager consultation (see Approval).
  • Approval:
    • An independent approval authority makes the final decision (MOD, 2019), for example, the Army Personnel Centre (APC).
      • The approval authority will draw on a range of subject matter experts (SME) input in the process.
      • For example, Directorate of Manning (Army), Divisional and Brigade chains of command, and CO’s.
    • Planned flexible service boards occur (in line with published boarding calendar).
    • Chain of command and individual informed of the board’s decision.
    • Once approved will state the:
      • Quantity of part-time non-duty days of 20% or 40%; and/or
      • Maximum separation available during the arrangement.
    • If unapproved can accept decision or initiate the appeals process.
  • Review:
    • The arrangement is tracked through JPA.
    • All arrangements should be reviewed every twelve months, although can take place earlier.
  • Termination:
    • Either party can give notice to cancel.
    • Twenty eight days’ notice (whenever possible) for working from home, variable start and finish times, and compressed hours.
    • Ninety days’ notice (usually) for flexible service.
    • Can be immediate for “the most urgent operational circumstances.” (MOD, 2019, p.7).
    • The arrangement can be varied, suspended or ended if needed.

9.0     Time Periods for Flexible Service

Time periods to note for flexible service include (MOD, 2019):

  • The minimum period is three months.
  • No longer than three years continuously.
  • No longer than four years in a twelve year rolling period.

It is important to note that the majority of an individual’s career will continue to be on a full-time basis with unlimited liability for duty.

10.0   Examples of Part-Time Working

Examples of part-time working include (British Army, 2018):

  • Days off (or non-duty days) could be taken weekly, for example:
    • Every Thursday and Friday.
  • Aggregate up, for example:
    • Take a week off every 5 weeks; or
    • A month off every 5 months.

11.0   Is Flexible Service more Suitable for Certain Groups?

“No – everybody has the right to apply, and it’s not aimed at any one area of the Army. Depending on their stage in the operational planning cycle, those at some units will be able to work more flexibly than others.” (Soldier, 2019a, p.11).

12.0   Could Short-Notice Operations Be Disrupted?

“This is a fair question. But no, our assessment is that operational activity will not be affected. An application has to be approved, and somebody who is in a critical trade and set for deployment is, for example, unlikely to be signed off for flexible service. But each case is dealt with individually.” (Soldier, 2019a, p.11).

13.0   Non-Duty Days

Personnel can be returned to normal duties in prescribed circumstances such as times of national emergency or operational need.

Generally, individuals must be given 90 days’ notice, and vice versa, unless “there is a mutual agreement to reduce this timeframe.” (British Army, 2018, p.5).

14.0  Factors to Consider in Flexible Service

Factors for personnel to consider when thinking about flexible service include commensurate/pro-rata reductions in:

  • Pay: A 20% to 40% reduction for those working part-time.
  • X-Factor: Restricted separation will reduce this by 20% relatively (from 14.5% to 11.5% in absolute terms).
  • Pension: A reduction in pay will have an impact on pension accrual and, therefore, the amount of pension received (refer to pension calculator in Useful Links section below). Early departure payment (EDP) and immediate pension qualification dates unaffected by flexible service (Forces Pension Society, 2019).
  • Leave: Those working part-time will have a reduced leave entitlement.

Those who apply for part-time working and restricted separation would be affected by all of the above.

“Accommodation and allowance entitlements will not change if existing eligibility rules are met. The Service will also continue to provide medical and dental care to ensure operational fitness.” (MOD, 2019, p.7).

15.0   Types of Flexible Leave

There are several different types of flexible leave, including:

  • Transfer of leave:
    • Enables Regular, FTRS and ADC Service personnel to apply to transfer up to 10 days leave (15 days for those who are assigned to an operational tour of six months or longer), from their annual leave allowance during a leave year to their spouse or registered civil partner if they are also a Service person.
    • Leave transfer can only be made once in a rolling two-year period.
  • Call forward of leave:
    • Enables Service personnel to call forward up to 10 days leave of their annual leave allowance from the upcoming leave year into the current leave year.
  • Enhanced leave:
    • Enables Regular Service personnel who have completed 15 years of service the opportunity to apply to take an extended block of 50 days leave in one continuous period in lieu of their 30 days annual leave allowance (8 days annual leave must be retained for public holidays).
    • Introduced under the New Employment Model (NEM).
  • Special unpaid leave:
    • Enables Service personnel a period of absence of any amount up to 93 days at any one time, which does not merit the grant of special paid or compassionate leave.
    • Can have an impact on reckonable service for the purpose of promotion, increments of pay, retired pay, pension or gratuity or for reckoning the eligibility for other types of leave except where permitted by current regulations.
  • Career intermissions:
    • Enables Regular Service personnel to take a specified period of unpaid time out of their Service careers for reasons such as personal or professional development outside of the Service, which they would otherwise be unable to do using leave entitlements, and provides a mechanism for their seamless return to the Service.
    • Involves full time unpaid absence for a period of between:
      • 3 to 6 months (up to 3 months are covered by unpaid leave);
      • 6 to 12 months; and
      • 1 to 3 years.
    • Previously known as a career break.
    • The impact on TACOS will vary depending on the time period of the career intermission.

16.0   Will Personnel be allowed to Work in Civilian Jobs during Unpaid Leave?

“In certain circumstances, yes. This is positive for the Army. It can widen opportunities by allowing soldiers and officers to invest in new skills, maintain professional competency and broaden experience.” (Soldier, 2017c, p.15).

It is important to note that the individual is still in the Armed Forces, so not all types of work will be appropriate, and any civilian employment must be approved before taking it up. The relevant Queen’s Regulations provide further detail.

17.0  Useful Publications

  • HM Government:
    • National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015. Section 4.53, page 31.
  • Ministry of Defence (MOD):
  • Joint Service Publication (JSP):
    • JSP 750: Centrally Determined Terms of Service. Chapters 1 and 2 for Flexible Working arrangements.
    • JSP 754: Tri-Service Regulations for Pay and Charges.
    • JSP 760: Tri-Service Regulations for Leave and Other Types of Absences. Chapters 4 to 8 for Leave arrangements.
  • Defence Internal Briefs (DIB):
    • DIB 32/16.
    • DIB 02/17: New Employment Model: Flexible Duties Trial.
  • Army General and Administrative Instruction (AGAI):
    • AGAI Volume 2, Chapter 44.
    • AGAI 81: Army Welfare Policy.
  • Army Briefing Note (ABN):
    • ABN 21/18: Flexible Service Available from 2019.
    • ABN 002/19: Flexible Service – Policy Published and Applications Open from February 1.
  • Defence Information Notices (DIN):
    • 2017DIN01-006: Flexible Duties Trial.
    • 2018DIN01-112: Regular Flexible Duties – Trial (Transitional).
    • 2018DIN01-149: Amendment to the Armed Forces Pension Schemes – AFPS 75, AFPS 05 and AFPS 15.
    • 2019DIN01-003: Amendments to the Armed Forces Pension Scheme and Early Departure Scheme for the Introduction of Flexible Service.
    • 2019DIN01-005: Flexible Service.
    • 2019DIN01-008: Regular Flexible Service – Pay Policy.
  • Legislation:
    • The Royal Navy Terms of Service (Ratings) Regulations 2006.
    • The Royal Marines Terms of Service Regulations 2006.
    • The Army Terms of Service Regulations 2007.
    • The Royal Air Force Terms of Service Regulations 2007.
    • The Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Act 2018.
    • The Armed Forces (Terms of Service) (Amendments Relating to Flexible Working) Regulations 2018.
    • Queen’s Regulations for the Army, Navy and Air Force respectively.
  • British Army:

18.0  Useful Links

19.0 References

British Army. (2018) Flexible Service: Guide for Regular Applicants and the Chain of Command. Andover: Army HQ.

Cobesco (Confederation of Service Charities). (2018) Armed Forces Pension Consultation Regarding New Flexible Service Opportunities. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.cobseo.org.uk/armed-forces-pension-consultation-regarding-new-flexible-service-opportunities/. [Accessed: 22 May, 2019].

Forces Pension Society. (2019) Flexible Service Starts in April. Available from World Wide Web: https://forcespensionsociety.org/news/flexible-service-starts-in-april/. [Accessed: 20 May, 2019].

HM Government. (2015) National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-security-strategy-and-strategic-defence-and-security-review-2015. [Accessed: 13 May, 2019].

HM Government. (2017) The Next Steps in Flexible Working in the Armed Forces. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/flexible-engagements-system-what-you-need-to-know/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-flexible-eng… [Accessed: 04 February, 2019].

HM Government. (2018) Enhancing Flexible Working in the Armed Forces. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/mod-flexible-engagements-system. [Accessed: 13 May, 2019].

MOD (Ministry of Defence). (2017) The Next Steps in Flexible Working in the Armed Forces. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/flexible-engagements-system-what-you-need-to-know/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-flexible-eng%E2%80%A6. [Accessed: 04 February, 2018]. [Defunct].

MOD (Ministry of Defence). (2018) Flexible Working and You: A Guide for Service Personnel. Issue 1. January 2018.

MOD (Ministry of Defence). (2019) Flexible Working and You: A Guide for Service Personnel. Issue 3. January 2019.

RAF-FF (Royal Air Force Families Federation). (2018) Introduction of Flexible Service – One Year To Go. Available from World Wide Web: https://www.raf-ff.org.uk/news/flexible-service-introduction/. [Accessed: 13 May, 2019].

Soldier. (2017a) Flexible Working Shift. Soldier: Magazine of the British Army. January 2017, pp.14.

Soldier. (2017b) Flexible Duties Step Up. Soldier: Magazine of the British Army. February 2017, p.15.

Soldier. (2017c) Fightback on Flexibility. Soldier: Magazine of the British Army. April 2017, pp.15.

Soldier. (2017d) Service Life Set to be more Flexible. Soldier: Magazine of the British Army. July 2017, pp.7.

Soldier. (2019a) Flexible Service now a Reality. Soldier: Magazine of the British Army. February 2019, pp.11.

Soldier. (2019b) Army Sergeant Major Says… Soldier: Magazine of the British Army. April 2019, pp.55.