UK - Pension campaigners have claimed a legal victory over the UK government after the Court of Appeal ruled the government misled 125,000 people about the safety of their pensions and caused injustices "beyond financial losses".
The latest decision in favour of the Pensions Action Group (PAG) follows a High Court ruling in February 2007, which stated the secretary of state for work and pensions acted "irrationally and unlawfully" when he rejected the findings of the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report "Trusting in the Pensions Promise".
Campaigners, including independent policy adviser Dr Ros Altmann, launched the legal action against the UK government in 2006 after it refused to acknowledge the Ombudsman's findings, including a statement arguing it misled members of occupational pension schemes through official information and was guilty of maladministration. (See earlier IPE story: Collapsed scheme compensation case to go to full hearing)
The verdict of the appeal court was the government's approach caused injustices which "go beyond financial losses" while its maladministration led to the distress, anxiety, uncertainty and no opportunity to take remedial action to protect their pensions.
However, the DWP pointed out the Court of Appeal did uphold the government's dismissal of maladministration relating to the implementation of the minimum funding requirement (MFR) and dismissed a claim by campaigners suggesting the government's behaviour breached human rights laws.
That said, the government has confirmed it has requested leave to appeal to the House of Lords, despite the fact it has recently met demands by campaigners to increase the levels of the Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS), to match payments from the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).
Altmann said: "We are astonished that the secretary of state, James Purnell, wants to appeal to the House of Lords. How many verdicts will it take to make the government see sense? This attitude merely reinforces the High Court and Court of Appeal verdicts that the government's decisions in this matter are irrational."
She claimed over past few years the government has tried to "wear down" the claimants and accused it of trying to "bully the victims into submission, by threatening to bankrupt them if they lost the case".
"We are vigorously opposing the government's request for leave to appeal to the House of Lords in this case. It is a waste of taxpayers' money and would just further prolong the suffering caused," she added.
However the DWP claimed the appeal request was a "matter of process", and although the Court of Appeal refused the request, the government now has 28 days to petition the House of Lords for clarification on any points in the judgement.
A spokesperson said: "We applied to the court for leave to appeal on a protective basis but we will want to consider this complex and lengthy judgment in more detail with our colleagues in government before deciding whether to pursue an appeal. It is now for us to apply to the House of Lords should we decide we wish to do so. "
But Altmann added: "We need the secretary of state to face up to his responsibilities and apologise to past victims of this official 'mis-selling' of private pensions, while also ensuring that the government does not make the same mistakes in future."
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