Defence secretary Grant Shapps has defended his decision to pause new plans to allocate military housing based on family size rather than rank, saying “I think we can do this better for everyone”.

The controversial proposals affecting Army, Navy and Royal Air Force personnel were halted amid fears that officers would resign.

The standard of military housing is currently determined by rank. However, the Modernised Accommodation Offer (MAO) proposes allocating properties by family size.

It could mean that a married major with no children would be downgraded from a three or four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom, while a married private with three children would be entitled to a larger house than the major.

Grant Shapps visits Catterick Garrison
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps visits Catterick Garrison, in North Yorkshire, to tour the base and meet troops (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Speaking to reporters on Thursday after meeting troops at Catterick Garrison, in North Yorkshire, Mr Shapps said he had looked again at the new MAO, which he said included “a lot that’s good within it, and I intend to allow to go through”.

But he recognised the concerns of those who have campaigned on the rank issue.

He said: “I said ‘hold on a minute, I can see some real problems here’.

“You’ll end up with officers who have may have, for example, just disciplined or docked pay and their neighbour could be a person who they’ve just disciplined.

“That isn’t really very sustainable in what is, by its very design, quite a hierarchical system. And needs to be.”

Mr Shapps said: “I was sufficiently concerned about that to put that part of the change on hold.”

He said a review would take place.

He went on: “I’m not going to rush doing that. And I want to make sure that we get accommodation which is fit for everybody. But I don’t think the way to get there is to suddenly force change – particularly on the Army.”

Mr Shapps said: “I think we can do this better for everyone and that’s why I’ve called a halt to it.”

The plan, which was set to be launched in March, attracted criticism from officers and their partners, who argued the policy would lead to a breakdown in military cohesion by undermining hierarchical structures and penalising those who are infertile or choose not to have children.

During his visit to Catterick Garrison on Thursday, Mr Shapps said it was good news that Army recruitment was now at a six-year high with 15,000 applications in January, which he said was “through the roof” compared with previous years.

Mr Shapps said: “I think the message that there are amazing opportunities in our armed forces is finally getting through and Catterick is a very key part of the future when it comes training those new recruits.”

He said: “Catterick’s got a very bright future as we expand up our recruitment programme.”