Govt faces £4bn pension bill as firefighters win case

The government faces a potential annual pensions bill of up to £4bn after an employment tribunal declared that over 6,000 firefighters are entitled to a return to their pre-2015 pension schemes.

In December 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that changes to firefighters’ pensions constituted to unlawful age discrimination.

It confirmed that the ruling will be applied across all public sector pensions.

The changes, imposed in 2015, stipulated that older firefighters could stay in the existing and better pension scheme, and younger members had to transfer to a new and worse scheme, causing huge financial losses.

Appeals to the Supreme Court were attempted by the government but were denied in June 2019.

The claimants, members of the 1992 and 2006 firefighters’ pension schemes, are now entitled to be treated as if they have remained members of their original pension scheme, with benefits including a retirement age of between 50 and 55.

The employment tribunal decision is an interim declaration which will cover immediate cases, such as those who have taken ill-health retirement, with a final declaration in July 2020. It will apply to firefighters who joined the fire and rescue service before 1 April 2012.

Commenting on the announcement, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “Last Christmas, we gave firefighters the gift of a victory in the courts. This year, firefighters can celebrate knowing that their union has secured their rightful retirement – a gift borne of solidarity that proves what unions can achieve.

“The law has now changed and our FBU claimants will be entitled to return to their previous pension schemes. Legislation will need to be amended, but there can be no delay in implementing this remedy. Firefighters were robbed, and they must now be repaid.

“To the new Tory government, let me be clear. We fought tooth and nail against your attacks on our pensions and won. If you dare to try to pay for these changes by raiding the pensions of current or future firefighters, we will come for you again – and we will win.”

The FBU has confirmed that it will now seek compensation for injury to feelings and compensation for financial losses for claimants who lost money due to the changes.

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