Army restrictions that stop people with tattoos on their necks and hands from joining up have been lifted in an attempt to enlist more reservist recruits in the wake of savage defence cuts.

"Tattoos have become more acceptable in society over the last decade, and in recent years there has been an increasing number of personnel with tattoos on visible areas", said a Ministry of Defence spokesperson.

"There is no evidence that commanders have found these to have an adverse impact on operational effectiveness and as a result there has been reluctance to discharge those who breached the policy."

The move to relax rules was first proposed by Capita – the private company which now runs army recruitment – in June, after challenges hiring thousands of reservists to replace regular servicemen and women.

The Army is slimming down from 102,000 regulars to 82,000 as part of Defence cost cutting, but still has to recruit thousands of young 'part-time' soldiers each year.

A spokesperson for Capita said on Thursday: "Tattoos have become increasingly acceptable and common in society, including among potential recruits considering a career in the Army.

"Greater flexibility over tattoos on the neck or hands will remove a barrier for a number of people currently interested in applying for a job in the Army, without compromising its image as a professional force."

Previous rules stated that tattoos must not be visible if a soldier is wearing a long sleeve shirt.

But Capita told MPs these strict rules were stopping the army from hiring the best soldiers. CEO Dawn Marriott-Sims said in July the rules were "a barrier to a significant number of our target population."

Offensive or excessive tattoos are also not allowed, although this is a subjective test carried out when candidates are assessed. A section of the army's website dealing with the question of whether someone can join up if they have a tattoo currently says: "If your tattoo is offensive, obscene or racist it will prevent you from joining the army."

A Freedom of Information request found in July that the Army rejected 336 applications because of offensive or inappropriately placed tattoos as well as piercings in the year 2013/14.