Fire Brigades Union appeals against pension changes in court

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Fire Brigades Union takes legal action over pension scheme alterations

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is currently challenging alterations to public sector pensions initiated by HM Treasury in 2019.

The legal action, set against the backdrop of a three-day hearing in the Court of Appeal starting on 20 February 2024, addresses the government’s decision to pass the costs of remedying its own discrimination, as established by court rulings, onto members of public service pension schemes.

Background to the pension changes

Following the 2011 Hutton Report on public service pensions, the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 introduced a Costs Control Mechanism (CCM) to manage the expenses of public sector pensions.

This mechanism allowed for certain cost increases related to pension scheme members’ personal circumstances to be transferred to them through higher contributions or reduced benefits.

However, it excluded “employer costs” such as actuarial valuations from this calculation.

Subsequent reforms in 2015 shifted pensions to be based on career average earnings and introduced transitional protections, which were later deemed as age discriminatory by the Court of Appeal in the Sargeant and McCloud cases of 2019.

The FBU’s stance and legal challenge

The FBU’s appeal, supported by legal representation from Thompsons Solicitors LLP, contests a 2021 Treasury Direction that allows the costs of rectifying the age discrimination identified in these cases, known as the McCloud/Sargeant Remedy Cost (MSRC), to be borne by members of the new public sector pension schemes.

The union argues that this constitutes a further instance of age discrimination and misapplies the CCM and the powers of the 2013 Act.

Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, expressed his disbelief and frustration: “The FBU has shown that the 2015 pension scheme changes were age discriminatory.

“It beggars belief that the government should be able to change the rules so that the costs of remedying its own discrimination are passed onto firefighters who have already seen their pensions cut.

“Firefighters dedicate their lives to serving the public, and their work is highly demanding.

“Like all workers, they deserve pensions which reflect their commitment without being eroded by unfair cost adjustments. This appeal is a stand for justice.

“We are resolute in our fight for what is right for our members, and we will not rest until everyone has access to a decent pension.”

Richard Arthur, Head of Trade Union Law at Thompsons Solicitors LLP, further commented on the government’s actions: “It’s a well-established principle that the government can’t use its power under statute to thwart the objective of the Act – in this case, the Public Service Pensions Act 2013.

“That’s what’s happening here, as well as a second round of discrimination against firefighters.”

Implications for public sector pensions

The outcome of this legal challenge has broad implications for all public sector pension schemes and the millions of workers who are part of them.

It raises critical questions about the fairness of pension adjustments and the government’s accountability in rectifying past discriminations.

IFSJ Comment

The Fire Brigades Union’s appeal against the government’s pension scheme changes highlights a significant legal and ethical battle over public sector pensions.

This challenge underscores the complexities of rectifying past injustices while ensuring that the costs do not unfairly burden the very individuals affected by previous discriminations.

As this case progresses through the Court of Appeal, it underscores the ongoing struggle for equitable pension rights and the broader implications for public sector workers across the UK.

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