We take a look at government proposals to rectify unlawful age discrimination in firefighter pensions, after the FBU’s court victory last year
What’s the latest with firefighter pensions?
The Tory-Lib-Dem coalition government carried out a series of attacks on the pensions of firefighters and other public sector workers. The “transitional protection” built into the changes meant that firefighters born before a certain date were allowed to stay on their old, better pension scheme, while those born after were forced onto the worse 2015 firefighters’ pension scheme.
In 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that this was age discrimination. After a year and a half of wriggling and a failed attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court, the government conceded the “transitional protection” was unlawful.
The government has now published a consultation document with proposals for a “remedy” – how the unlawful age discrimination will be rectified.
These are proposals, not final agreed positions. The consultation is open until October 2020 and the FBU will respond to it in full.
What is in the government’s consultation document?
The consultation document suggests a remedy for removing the age discrimination in public service pension schemes.
The government proposals would effectively allow pension scheme members to choose which scheme would leave them better off for the period from 1 April 2015 until 31 March 2022. They call this the remedy period.
From 1 April 2022, all public sector workers who are still contributing to a pension will be moved to a new scheme to avoid discrimination. There is currently no detail on what the new 2022 pension scheme will look like.
The government could propose something similar to the 2015 firefighters’ pension scheme. However some elements of that scheme, such as requiring firefighters to work until age 60, are still completely unworkable and are still opposed by the FBU.
What choices will I have to make?
All affected members will have to choose which pension scheme they want to be in for the remedy period. This will be either their legacy scheme (the original pension they signed up to) or the reformed 2015 scheme. A combination of both will not be allowed.
The government has also suggested that there will be a default option for those who do not choose.
When do I have to make this choice?
The two proposed options for when this choice could be made are:
- An immediate choice, which would require pension scheme members to choose their scheme immediately when legislation is enacted in 2022.
- A deferred choice, which would allow pension scheme members to choose their scheme upon retirement.
We have already suggested the deferred choice will be the best option for the majority of members as it allows members to decide which scheme will provide best benefits based on real information. In contrast the immediate choice in 2022, could mean many FBU members will have to make a decision based on assumptions about their future finances and personal circumstances.
Who is affected?
These proposals apply to all public sector workers affected by unlawful age discrimination in England, Wales, and Scotland. A separate consultation document is expected with a different timescale for Northern Ireland.
It applies to members of the Firefighters’ Pension Scheme in service before 31 March 2012 and after 1 April 2015. The government has clarified that individuals do not need to have submitted a claim in the FBU’s court case to be affected.
What if I opted out of my pension scheme because I didn’t want to join the new scheme?
Government proposals say that individuals in this situation will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. At the moment there is no further detail on this proposal.
We are already aware of some firefighters in this position. Please approach your FBU rep if this affects you.
What is the FBU doing in response?
We are now considering the proposals and will respond in full to the government’s consultation document.
Prior to publishing the consultation document, the government informally consulted the FBU on the two choices for the remedy period. We raised concerns over the choice between the immediate and deferred options, but were not consulted on proposals for schemes after 2022.
We are also taking forward legal challenges over the unacceptable delay in dealing with those affected members who are facing retirement, including those with ill-health.
What will happen to my pension in 2022?
The government have proposed that all public sector workers be moved to a new pension scheme in 2022. They are proposing primary legislation will be used to close all current schemes on 31 March 2022. There is no further detail on this at the moment.
What happens if I’ve already retired, or if I retire before 2022?
If you have retired, or if you are going to retire, you will still have a choice which scheme you want for the period from 2015-2022. The proposals suggest that this may require a retrospective assessment of your pension benefits in 2022, after legislation has been enacted.
The government has proposed that members who retire between now and the implemented changes will also be dealt with in this way on the same timescale. This is completely unacceptable and the FBU has already started exploring options to ensure these cases are dealt with without further delay.
For further updates, including the union’s full response to the consultation, keep an eye on the FBU website, social media channels, and sign up to Rollcall, the FBU’s email list at bit.ly/FBUrollcall. If you are affected by any of the issues outlined, please contact your FBU rep.