For 100 years the Royal British Legion has championed the Armed Forces, providing life-changing help and support, and challenging injustices on their behalf. In its centenary year, as the charity begins its next chapter and responds to changes created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the RBL has been exploring how it can adapt its support to ensure it is having the greatest impact for those who are seeking help.

Throughout its history the RBL has responded to the changing needs of its community. With significant shifts in the way the charity’s support services are being used and delivered in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the RBL is reviewing its ways of working, and how charitable funds can be spent effectively to deliver the best service possible to those in need.

The Armed Forces community is changing, and the type of support needed is growing increasingly complex. Since 2016 the charity has seen a 20% increase in people needing support with housing, financial issues, mental health and well-being and mobility. The profound impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on people’s lives means the charity is also anticipating a substantial increase in the number of people looking for support across a complex range of areas.

In response to these challenges the RBL is expanding and strengthening its support offering with plans to invest up to £14 million into specific areas of its welfare services that are increasingly in demand and will deliver the greatest impact. This funding would enable the RBL to increase its immediate needs grants, strengthen its War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Services and provide further financial support to partner organisations that specialise in areas of complex need such as mental health and homelessness.

Alongside these proposals the RBL is considering plans to amend its regional footprint by reducing its office space across the UK and introducing new ways of working that will allow its staff to work remotely or from one of six key regional hubs. These proposed plans would also include removing the high street Pop-in Centres as an access point for those seeking support.

The RBL’s Pop-in Centres were opened based on information and data that was valid more than ten years ago but is no longer reflective of societal habits and behaviours. With numerous other ways for people to reach out to the charity, including through the contact centre, website and branch network, the Pop-in Centres are used infrequently by the Armed Force community as a way of accessing support, accounting for just 12% of welfare enquiries. With significant operating costs involved, the Pop-Ins are no longer an effective way for the charity to provide support, and funds could be put to better use with greater impact on individuals seeking help.

The reduction in their use over a number of years coincides with a shift in the way the charity has been carrying out its regional operations since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since introducing remote working, the RBL has been able to provide help to a greater number of people whilst significantly reducing support times.

Director General for the Royal British Legion, Charles Byrne, said:

“Our aim is to create better futures for our Armed Forces community and their families, using our resources as effectively as we can to provide them with the very best care and support possible. We can only achieve this if we continuously challenge ourselves to use the funds we are given in the most impactful way, and in direct response to the current needs of our community. These proposals are just one step in helping us to achieve that aim and form part of a much wider piece of work that began in 2019.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on people’s lives with many members of our Armed Forces community struggling to cope with unemployment, bereavement, complicated housing and financial issues and poor mental health and well-being as a result. We are proposing changes to ensure we can meet these new challenges and provide the right help and support that so many within our Armed Forces community are in desperate need of.

“Whilst these changes would allow the charity to operate more effectively, freeing up more of our funds to spend directly on supporting our Armed Forces community, we are aware of the impact they will have on not only our staff members but on the beneficiaries, volunteers and partner organisations who are based in our area offices and use the Pop-in Centres. We will be working closely with our staff as we explore how these changes may impact their working arrangements and how we deliver our services on a day to day basis.”

Consultation with RBL staff around these proposals is expected to continue until early June, after which a decision will be announced.