TPO upholds complaint against Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service

The Pensions Ombudsman (TPO) has upheld a complaint against the Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service over an ill health retirement pension (IHRP).

The scheme has been ordered to seek clarification from the claimant's doctor and review the case.

‘Mrs Y’ raised concerns over the schemes decision not to award her an IHRP from the point of termination, in December 2012.

Having worked for SFRS for 23 years as a watch manager, Mrs Y had taken sick absence from November 2011 due to a bowel condition and was being seen by occupational health (OH) for assessments.

Throughout the latter half of 2012, the scheme discussed a number of workplace adjustments to ensure that Mrs Y would be able to continue her work, however, the OH doctor, Dr Ferriday, concluded in her report that Mrs Y remained “unwilling to return to work” and was unlikely that Mrs Y would comply with the requirements of an early ill health retirement.

Mrs Y also stated that “rather than to cause upheaval it would be better for her to retire”, subsequently receiving a termination of employment letter in December 2012, which she did not appeal.

In February 2015, approximately seven months after Mrs Y began to receive her pension benefits, she contacted SFRS to re-consider the reason for her termination and her entitlement to an IHRP due to ongoing poor health.

SFRS agreed, referring Mrs Y to an assessment with an Independent Registered Medical Practitioner (IRMP), who reported that she was “permanently unfit for her previous role”.

However, the report also emphasised that: “She is not eligible for [an IHRP] backdated to that date [December 2012] due to the fact at the time investigations were ongoing as well as further treatment being required…it could not retrospectively be said that permanence was there in December 2012”.

SFRS also pointed out that it was not aware that Mrs Y was in receipt of her deferred benefits when she requested the retrospective assessment, stating that it would not have referred her to the IRMP if it had.

SFRS confirmed in October 2015 that the appeal would be dealt with under the internal dispute resolution procedure (IDRP).

Although the scheme did not uphold the complaint under the first stage, it did so under stage two, concluding that it should have obtained a certificate from an IRMP in line with regulation 20.

The case was then referred to a new IRMP, Dr Richards, who stated that he would support Mrs Y's request for ill health retirement, as she would have been "totally incapacitated" from an employment perspective.

However, the schemes October decision failed to take Dr Richards report into account, instead relying on a subsequent report from a third IRMP, Dr Yusuf, who found that Mrs Y was not permanently incapable of discharging the duties of her role.

As such, the scheme did not award Mrs Y an IHRP, though it did award £500 in compensation.

Mrs Ys subsequent appeal was denied on the grounds that she had run out of time.

In its determination, TPO accepted the schemes reasoning to not consider Dr Richards report, explaining that he had not been provided with all of Mrs Y’s medical evidence, however, it also stated that SFRS had not asked appropriate questions before fully accepting Dr Yusuf's opinion.

The scheme was subsequently ordered to seek clarification from Dr Yusuf before reviewing the case, with particular clarification needed around potential treatments and timescales for a return to work.

TPO also agreed with the SFRS offer of £500 for the “significant distress” experienced by Mrs Y, but made no further reimbursements for legal costs.

This also follows two similar ill health complaint against the NHS and the Central Networks Group of the Electricity Supply Pension Scheme respectively, in which TPO also ruled that the scheme should obtain further clarification from the medical adviser of the scheme.

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