Over 6,000 firefighters are entitled to return to their pre-2015 pension schemes, an employment tribunal declared today, in a landmark victory for the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) with implications across the public sector. This comes after the Court of Appeal ruled last December that the government’s attacks on firefighter pensions constituted unlawful age discrimination.
The claimants, members of the 1992 and 2006 firefighters’ pension schemes, are now entitled to be treated as if they have remained members of their original pension scheme, with benefits including a retirement age of between 50 and 55.
In July, the government admitted it had spent £495,000 on legal costs fighting to maintain discriminatory pensions, while the total annual cost of applying the ruling across the public sector could be up to £4 billion.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:
“Last Christmas, we gave firefighters the gift of a victory in the courts. This year, firefighters can celebrate knowing that their union has secured their rightful retirement – a gift borne of solidarity that proves what unions can achieve.
“The law has now changed and our FBU claimants will be entitled to return to their previous pension schemes. Legislation will need to be amended, but there can be no delay in implementing this remedy. Firefighters were robbed, and they must now be repaid.
“To the new Tory government, let me be clear. We fought tooth and nail against your attacks on our pensions and won. If you dare to try to pay for these changes by raiding the pensions of current or future firefighters, we will come for you again – and we will win.”
In 2015, the Tory-Lib Dem government imposed a series of detrimental changes to firefighter pensions, which included a built-in “transitional protection” which kept older firefighters on better pension schemes while younger members were moved onto a new, worse pension scheme, which included a requirement to work until aged 60.
In December 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that this transitional protection arrangement constituted age discrimination and was therefore unlawful. The government then attempted an appeal to the Supreme Court which was denied in June 2019, ending their legal challenge. They have since confirmed that the ruling will be applied across all public sector pensions.
Today’s decision is an interim declaration which will cover immediate cases, such as those who have taken ill-health retirement, with a final declaration in July. It will apply to firefighters who joined the fire and rescue service before 1 April 2012.
The declaration follows similar judgements for judges, police, and Ministry of Defence police. The FBU is the only organisation that has fought on behalf of firefighters and launched over 6,000 employment tribunal cases, organised dozens of periods of industrial action, and sent hundreds of firefighters to lobby parliament against the changes.
The FBU will now pursue compensation for injury to feelings and compensation for financial losses for claimants who lost money due to the changes.
Any FBU member who was a member of the fire and rescue service before 1 April 2012 who is not currently a claimant will be able to register as a claimant shortly, with details and frequently asked questions to be addressed in an all members circular.