Govt facing legal action from doctors over ‘discriminating’ pension scheme

Doctors are intending to sue the government over the “discriminating” NHS Pension Scheme, which they say they were forced to join and will result in “huge financial losses” when they retire.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has revealed it will help doctors pursue legal action; its solicitors have written to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, warning him of the intention to take legal action. Letters have also been sent to the Scottish and Northern Ireland governments on behalf of members in those nations.

The action follows a Court of Appeal ruling last year, which stated that the government discriminated against judges and firefighters on the grounds of age, race and equal pay in relation to changes to their pension schemes.

Although the schemes are different, the BMA believes the underlying legal principles are essentially the same. The outcome of the legal challenges to the judges and firefighters ruling could influence any legal challenge brought on behalf of younger doctors to the legality of the 2015 NHS Pension Scheme.

BMA interim treasurer, Dr Trevor Pickersgill, said: “In 2015, the NHS closed two sections of the NHS Pension Scheme, moving many NHS staff onto a newer 2015 scheme with less valuable retirement benefits. However, it also allowed some older doctors to stay on the previous schemes until they either retired or they moved to the new scheme at the end of a fixed transition period. The BMA alleges that the failure to allow younger doctors to benefit from these transitions constitutes unlawful age discrimination.”

On the 1 April 2015 the 2015 NHS Pension Scheme (NHSPS) was introduced with approximately 75 per cent of NHS Employees joining the scheme on that date. However, older doctors are protected from these changes; members who were within 10 years of their National Pension Age (NPA) on 1 April 2012 are fully protected from the 2015 NHSPS and remain on the older scheme. Younger doctors, which is to say, doctors who were more than 13.5 years from their NPA on 1st April 2012, or who joined the scheme from 1st April 2015, enjoy no such protection from the 2015 NHSPS.

Pickersgill highlighted the similarities of the pension changes with that of the firefighters’ scheme, with older firefighters able to stay in the existing and better pension scheme, whilst younger members had to transfer to a new and worse scheme, causing significant financial losses.

“The government has said it will appeal this decision, but the BMA is demanding that, should that appeal fail, the government will agree that 2015 NHS Pension Scheme does unlawfully discriminate against its younger members. The BMA wants the government to scrap the scheme so that doctors are not adversely affected by it in later years.

“Many doctors had been working towards and planning for their retirement based on membership of the former sections of the NHS pension scheme, only for those plans to be completely disregarded once the government’s discriminatory changes were brought in.”

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