ForcesWatch briefing on Terms of Service
January 2011

Employment in the armed forces is unique in placing severe restrictions on rights and freedoms that are available to the rest of the UK population.  The armed forces are also the only employers in the UK who legally require their employees to commit themselves for several years, with the risk of a criminal conviction if they try to leave sooner.

This situation is all the more worrying given that the majority of recruits are very young.  There is also evidence that many personnel are unclear about the length of their commitment and their rights to leave and that the information they receive can be misleading.

This briefing outlines the issues and makes recommendations for improving the terms and conditions of service in the armed forces:

  • An overall reduction in the minimum length of service, perhaps to two years. 
  • The same minimum length of service for all three services, helping to avoid confusion.
  • A change to the requirement to give a year’s notice (or eighteen months in the RAF) of the intention to leave when the minimum time period is up.  This could be reduced to six months for all three branches of the forces.
  • All under 18s should have the right to leave the forces if they choose
  • Bring the period for discharge as of right for over 18s in the army in line with over 18s in the Navy and RAF.
  • Simplified terms of service, so every recruit is clear about the commitment involved.
  • A commitment to improve freedom of expression and association for members of the forces in line with the Council of Europe recommendations.

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