The UK’s Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is preparing to file new legal claims against the government, whom it said has made it impossible to comply with a Court of Appeal ruling against age discrimination in pension arrangements for firefighters.
The union, together with the Local Government Association (LGA), representing fire and rescue employers, has also sent a letter to the government, and is calling on it to remedy what they say is “pension injustice”.
The pension fund currently open to firefighters is the 2015 Firefighters’ Pension Scheme, a career-average defined benefit scheme introduced on 1 April 2015 as part of government reforms to public sector pensions.
Members of existing (final salary) schemes were required to transition to this scheme unless they were within 10 years of retirement.
However, a Court of Appeal ruling in December 2018 – the so-called McCloud/Sargeant case – said that the 2015 pension reforms were unlawful in that they afforded greater protection to older workers, who were allowed to continue building pension in the legacy schemes, while younger workers were moved into the new schemes.
To remedy this, parliament enacted the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Act 2022 this March. The aim is to:
- Ensure equal treatment for all members within each of the main public service pension schemes by moving all members into the new schemes on 1 April 2022 irrespective of age.
- Remove the effect of transitional protection by offering eligible members a choice over the set of benefits (legacy scheme or new scheme) they wish to receive for any pensionable service during the period 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2022 (the “remedy period”).
However, this change will not take effect until October 2023.
And the FBU said affected members who have taken or who are taking pension benefits are suffering detriment now.
The FBU and LGA had worked with government to agree a joint framework – in October 2021 – to implement the Court of Appeal ruling and resolve the issue as it relates to firefighters.
“But the withdrawal of relevant Home Office guidance and Treasury opposition to any solution for the scheme, aside from the October 2023 legislation, means that it has not been possible to deliver this,” the statement continued.
Mark Rowe, FBU national officer, said: “The Fire Brigades Union continues to fight for pension justice for all our members. We do not accept Treasury and Home Office delays in abiding by the decision of the court.”
He added that the FBU and LGA are continuing to meet regularly, along with their respective legal teams, to resolve this matter as quickly as possible for members.
And he concluded: “The FBU legal team are drafting the very significant next round of legal claims which will be registered in the court shortly.”
The letter, addressed to the Workforce Pay and Pensions Team at HM Treasury, and the Public Safety Group at the Home Office, called for the immediate payment of pension and lump sum arrears for scheme members within 12 months of leaving employment, and confirmed the intention to take legal action, which it warned would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.