Govt told to stop holding up pension improvements for public sector – FBU

The government has been told to re-introduce a cost-control mechanism that will improve public sector pensions.

The government put on hold the cost-control mechanism in January, following the Court of Appeal decision in December 2018 that ruled that changes the government had made to the firefighters’ and judges’ pension schemes were discriminatory.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has written to the government arguing that the cost of ending discriminatory pension practices, does not impact on the valuation of pensions, which it said the Treasury has claimed does.

The FBU said the pause has been imposed on all public service pensions and has withheld improved benefits from hundreds of thousands of workers. The cost of these improvements to pensions was passed on to employers in April, but the benefits to employees are still being withheld.

In December 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that parts of the government’s attacks on firefighter pensions were discriminatory. Following this ruling, the government paused the implementation of improved benefits as it attempted an appeal to the Supreme Court which was denied in June 2019.

In a letter to Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Rishi Sunak MP, the FBU has demanded an increase in pension benefits and the decoupling of the cost-control mechanism from the FBU’s legal victory on age discrimination.

The FBU’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, has also notified the Home Secretary, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the responsible government department in Northern Ireland.

Wrack said: “Firefighters and other public sector workers have had their improved benefits withheld for long enough. Younger workers have been discriminated against - ending that discrimination should not prevent improvements to public sector pensions. Our understanding of this is clear – these costs fall outside the valuation exercise. The government is dragging its heels.

“The Supreme Court has denied the government’s appeal. There is no longer any justification for this painful delay. The Treasury must immediately un-pause the pensions remedy process so that hard-working firefighters and other public sector workers can receive the benefits they are owed.”

Last month, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, issued a written statement confirming that the Court of Appeal ruling applies to all public sector pension schemes.

In a written response to the ruling, following the decision by the Supreme Court to deny the government an appeal, Truss said: “The court has found that those too far away from retirement age to qualify for ‘transitional protection’ have been unfairly discriminated against.

“As ‘transitional protection’ was offered to members of all the main public service pension schemes, the government believes that the difference in treatment will need to be remedied across all those schemes. This includes schemes for the NHS, civil service, local government, teachers, police, armed forces, judiciary and fire and rescue workers,” she noted.

Truss said initial estimates suggest that it will cost the government around £4bn.

An HM Treasury spokesperson said: “The Court process which will decide on the remedy is ongoing. This means the value of schemes to members cannot be assessed with any certainty, which is why the cost control mechanism has been paused.

“The government remains committed to public service pensions which are fair to members and fair to taxpayers.”

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