Firefighters to take government to court over pension ‘robbery’

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), along with three other unions (POA, PCS, and GMB), has filed court proceedings over the government’s withholding of improved pension benefits from hundreds of firefighters and hundreds of thousands of public service workers. 

The unions say that the government is in breach of a key part of the new public service pension schemes which came into force in April 2015 under the Coalition Government.

The regulations for these schemes require that if the formal valuation of the pension schemes show the cost to the government has increased or dropped beyond its own predetermined level, then the employee benefits must be reduced or improved accordingly.

The latest valuation in 2016 demonstrated that the costs of the scheme were below this predetermined level and that from April 2019, the benefits for thousands of scheme members should have been improved.

However, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, announced in January 2019 that the process of implementing these improved benefits would be “paused” until the Government digested the consequences of an earlier age discrimination case, brought by firefighter members of the pre-April 2015 schemes, which the Government had lost.

The FBU says that this delay is nothing more than a ‘dirty trick’ which seeks to pass on the cost of a number of unlawful discrimination cases, including that brought by the FBU (estimated by the government to be £4bn per annum) onto members of the new 2015 scheme.

By incorporating these extra costs the government would try and claim that the cost of the scheme had risen above pre-determined levels, thus reducing employee benefits.

The claim today, filed by the FBU and three other public service unions, intends to force the government to lift the pause and improve employee benefits in line with their own regulations.

Should the unions win the case, the legislation says that members would be eligible for a choice between contribution reductions, benefit improvements, or a mixture of both.

The outcome of the case could affect anyone who joined the pension schemes for those working in local government, civil servants, NHS, teachers, armed forces, police, or firefighters on or after 1 April 2012.

The pension schemes are valued every 4 years.

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack

Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said: “Less than six months ago we beat the government in court over pensions and their unwillingness to listen to our concerns, and we are ready and willing to do it again to get our members and thousands of public service workers the improvements they are owed.

“Ministers know full well that they are in breach of the regulations which clearly state that if the cost of financing the scheme drops, then the benefits should be passed onto members.

“Refusing to accept this and pausing the process amounts to a dirty trick which now means many of those in the scheme will have had their improvements withheld for over a year – worst still is that this robbery has been carried out by millionaire ministers.

“We are pleased to have the support of our fellow unions POA, PCS, and GMB and we are determined to see justice prevail.”

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