Govt in court over fire service pensions ‘discrimination’

The government is in court facing a legal challenge from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) over the introduction of a new pension scheme in 2015, which 'discriminates' against younger firefighters.

The introduction of the 2015 Firefighters’ Pension Scheme saw thousands of younger firefighters transferred into a scheme where they have to work until the age of 60, pay more in contriobutions and work for longer than they would have in the old scheme.

The FBU argues that this is a “textbook” example of age discrimination as it claims some younger fire fighters will have to save more than 85 per cent of their wage in order to access the same pension value as their older colleagues.

Firefighters younger than 45 on 1 April 2012 were “unfairly penalised” as they were forced into the new scheme whereas older firefighters were allowed to remain in the more generous older scheme. Despite opposition from the FBU, which involved strike action, the government went ahead and introduced the new scheme.

As a result, five test cases are being heard in court on behalf of the thousands of firefighters affected. As well as age discrimination, the union has produced evidence of racial and gender discrimination in the scheme. A disproportionate number of women and ethnic minority firefighters were affected by the changes as they make up a bigger proportion of workforce aged 45 or under.

The union argues that the new pension arrangements raise safety concerns as it means firefighters aged 60 have to undertake physically demanding operation tasks. At the same time, all the backroom jobs have disappeared as part of budget-driven staff reduction.
The FBU has provided large amounts of evidence from occupational fitness experts that show significant numbers will not be able to maintain safe fitness standards until the new pension age of 60.

Commenting on the case, FBU national officer Sean Starbuck said: “Older firefighters were allowed to remain in their current scheme while the message to younger firefighters seems to be change your lifestyle, save a lot more and get on with being a member of a worse scheme.

“This is an extremely important case for us. We have always said that the 2015 scheme was unworkable and did not reflect the job that firefighters actually do. The government simply ignored the evidence we presented and imposed the scheme anyway. We identified areas where we thought younger firefighters were being discriminated against and took up this challenge.

“Our financial advice shows that some firefighters will have to save more than 85 per cent of what they actually earn to make up for what they have lost by this imposition. Simply saying change your lifestyle and save more adds insult to injury. But again instead of talking to us they would rather fight with us so we end up in court.”

The Home Office declined to comment as it is an ongoing case.

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