Public service unions take govt to court over pension ‘robbery’

Four public sector trade unions have filed court proceedings against the government, accusing it of withholding improved pension benefits for hundreds of thousands of public service workers.

The unions have said that the government has breached regulations around new public service pension schemes, which came into force in April 2015.

The regulations state that if the formal valuation of the pension schemes shows 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, found that the costs of the schemes were below the predetermined level and that, from April 2019, the benefits for thousands of scheme members should have been increased.

However, Treasury chief secretary, Liz Truss, announced in January 2019 that the process of implementing the the increase had been “paused” until the government assessed the consequences of a previous ruling going against them, which found that changes to public sector workers’ pensions were age discriminatory.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), one of the unions filing court proceedings, labelled the government delay as a “dirty trick” which seeks to pass on the cost of a number of unlawful discrimination cases, including the age discrimination case which is estimated to cost the government £4bn a year.

It said that the government is incorporating the extra costs of the age discrimination case to try and claim that the cost of the scheme had risen above pre-determined levels, reducing employee benefits.

The court proceedings intend to force the government to lift the pause and improve employee benefits in line with the regulations.

Commenting, FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, 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."

The other unions taking the government to court alongside the FBU are the The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers (POA), Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and the GMB Union.

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.

Pensions Age has contacted the Treasury for comment.

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