Firefighter pensioners

Stop “painful” hold up of improving our pensions, firefighters say

The government must stop holding up pension improvements for firefighters and other public sector workers, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said, demanding that the cost of ending discriminatory pension practices does not impact on the valuation of pensions.

A cost-control mechanism, which would have improved public sector pensions, was paused in January, as the Treasury claimed that the cost of remedying discriminatory pension arrangements would impact the pension valuations.

The pause has been imposed on all public service pensions and has withheld improved benefits from hundreds of thousands of workers. The cost of these improvements to pensions were passed on to employers in April, but the benefits to employees are still being withheld.

In December 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that parts of the government’s attacks on firefighter pensions were discriminatory. Following this ruling, the government paused the implementation of improved benefits as it attempted an appeal to the Supreme Court which was denied in June 2019.

In a letter to Rishi Sunak MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the union has demanded an increase in pension benefits and the decoupling of the cost-control mechanism from the FBU’s legal victory on age discrimination. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, has also notified the Home Secretary, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the responsible government department in Northern Ireland.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“Firefighters and other public sector workers have had their improved benefits withheld for long enough. Younger workers have been discriminated against - ending that discrimination should not prevent improvements to public sector pensions. Our understanding of this is clear – these costs fall outside the valuation exercise. The government is dragging its heels.

“The Supreme Court has denied the government’s appeal. There is no longer any justification for this painful delay. The Treasury must immediately un-pause the pensions remedy process so that hard-working firefighters and other public sector workers can receive the benefits they are owed.”

In 2015, the coalition government carried out a series of attacks on firefighter pensions, with a built-in “transitional protection” proposal which kept older firefighters on better pension schemes while younger members were moved onto a new, worse pension scheme.

The Court of Appeal ruled in December 2018 that this was discriminatory on grounds of age, sex and race. The government has since confirmed that the ruling will be applied across all public sector pensions.

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