UK - The Northern Ireland Department of Education is refusing to fund enhanced pensions for college lecturers following an increase in the number of early retirements.

Members of the Northern Ireland Teachers Pension Scheme can take early retirement when they are made redundant, and the employing institution can currently award extra years of entitlement to their pension benefit.

However, the Department of Education claimed these "generous levels of enhancement" have placed an "unsustainable burden" on the scheme as the number of premature retirements is around 600 a year.

As a result, the government announced that from 1 April any future enhancements to pension benefits would have to be paid for by the institution.

But this has triggered a further increase in requests for early retirement settlements as redundancies from the merger of 16 further education colleges into six "super colleges' in August 2007 were brought forward from the end of the academic year to meet the April deadline.

However, the Department of Education is now refusing to pay any more settlements, which are generally as a result of redundancies, because it has already approved 50% more than the previous financial year.

A statement from the department said the majority of early retirement settlements "attract the maximum level of enhancement" and it claimed the "generous nature of the arrangements" has been the subject of criticism by a government committee.

"In light of this, it has been decided that no further premature retirement redundancies can be supported in the current financial year and that in the coming financial year, employers will meet the capitalised cost of any enhancements they decide to award," it added.

But the University and College Union (UCU) said the removal of enhanced pensions would not only affect the level of pension but also the amount of the superannuation lump sum.

As a result the UCU has contacted the government to seek funding for a "restructuring fund" which would be used to help pay for redundancy enhancements for the current academic year.

Jim McKeown, UCU regional official in Northern Ireland, said: "The removal of enhancements will make it much more difficult for colleges to find volunteers in a genuine situation involving a reduction in staffing."

"This will make the handling of restructuring much more difficult and is likely to result in an increase of claims for unfair dismissal against colleges," he added.

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