OK, so following the many responses from last week here's another BeeLine containing a new batch of press releases from the many corners of our pensions world. Thanks to those of you who took the time to write in last week by the way, it was really nice of you. The main noises I've picked up on this time concern the problems faced by retained firefighters; information from the Department for Work and Pensions about how carers can boost their pensions (with some handy links to the relevant forms); rumblings from the Co-op drivers about the imminent loss of their final-salary pensions; and, yet more stuff from the DWP being put out in advance of A-Day, this time regarding the new rules that mean people leaving pensionable service after just 3 months will become entitled to benefits. So, more or less a normal week on the pensions front really.
Also, and to show we listen when asked, we've added in a new feature here to help you scroll through the press releases. All you'll have to do is click on the one you want to read from the list below and the magic of electricity will take you there!
10 Jan 06 – Fire Brigades Union
11 Jan 06 – DWP
11 Jan 06 – T&G
12 Jan 06 - DWP
Retained Firefighters Battling for Equal Pension and Sick Pay Rights Take Case to House of Lords on Wednesday January 11
Retained firefighters battling for equal pension and sick pay rights are to have their case heard by the House of Lords on Wednesday 11 January. The final outcome will impact on retained firefighters in Fire and Rescue Services across the UK.
The case centres on the exclusion of retained firefighters from the Firefighters' Pension Scheme and worse treatment under the sick pay scheme.They claim they are being treated differently because they are part-time workers and that this is unlawful.
The Fire Brigades Union, which is backing the test case, says it is about securing fairness and justice for every retained firefighter in the country.Without retained firefighters most areas of the country would not have a full fire service and some would have none at all.
The UK has around 15,000 retained firefighters typically employed outside main urban centres "on call" for between 120 and 168 hours a week. They are employed on the basis that they have other jobs but have to work or live close to the fire stations where they are "retained" so they can respond quickly to emergencies.
The test case is being taken by 12 retained firefighters, 6 from Kent and 6 from Berkshire. 12,000 cases were originally started in employment tribunal in 2001 and whittled down to these 12 'lead' cases.
The union previously lost the case in the Court of Appeal on 2 July 2004 when the court accepted the employers' arguments that retained firefighters did not do the same or broadly similar work and rejected the appeal. It found that wholetime firefighters had "measurable additional job functions" including education and preventative work.
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said: "This case is about securing fairness and justice for thousands of retained firefighters across the UK. They are first class firefighters and they should not be given second class employment rights.
"Retained firefighters have worked in the front line at almost every major incident. Huge areas of this country rely on retained firefighters and when the public are being rescued they don't stop to ask your employment status."
The union is represented by leading employment lawyers Thompsons solicitors, Robin Allen QC and barrister Martin Seaward.
Notes to Editors:
1) The test case is called Mathews and others v Kent and Medway Towns Fire Authority and Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service.
2) The legal bit: The relevant laws are the Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000.
3) The employers argued that whole time firefighters and retained firefighters are not engaged in the same or broadly similar work and so are not covered by the regulations and that retained firefighters are not employed under the same type of contract as wholetimers.
4) It is anticipated the hearing will last several days and that the judgment will be reserved.
New information for carers on boosting their pension
Government initiatives such as State Second Pension and Home Responsibilities Protection have enabled carers and parents to boost their pensions even if they are not in employment. An updated information leaflet "State Pensions for carers and parents - Your guide" is available to make sure that everyone knows their rights and if they need to take any action.
Stephen Timms, Minister for Pensions Reform, said:
"It is important that carers are aware of their entitlements and take the steps to receive the maximum benefit. The reforms, which the Government has introduced, ensure that carers and people with long-term illness can benefit from building a larger pension. We want people to act now and not miss out. "Since 2002, 1.9m carers and 2.2m disabled people have begun to build up entitlement to additional State Pension for the first time.
"Many carers and parents will receive their additional State Pension automatically. However, it is still important for people to make sure this is the case for them. For example, unpaid carers in particular may need to take action and apply for Home Responsibilities Protection to make sure they don't miss out.
"We are at the start of a new year which will be very significant for the future of our pensions system and we want people to be clear about their options. The National Pensions Debate will also continue to talk with people of all ages, including carers, across the country. The next stage of the debate will focus on testing the recommendations put forward by the Pensions Commission."
To receive a copy of the information leaflet "State Pensions for carers and parents - Your guide (PM9)" call 0845 7 31 32 33. The leaflet will also be available in doctor's surgeries, Jobcentre Plus offices and local Pension Centres. It can also be downloaded from: http://www.thepensionservice.gov.uk
Co-op drivers step up pressure against pension changes
The anger over plans by the Co-op to end the final salary pension scheme for everyone across the businesses has led to a formal call by transport workers for a strike ballot. Transport and General Workers Union shop stewards, representing around one thousand transport workers, met yesterday in the wake of last week’s news and agreed to seek formal authority for the vote.
“This strong response to the Co-op should come as no surprise,” said T&G national secretary for transport Ron Webb. “We warned the Co-op that their plans to axe the final salary pension scheme would be unpopular and this is the proof.”
In his report to the shop stewards Mr. Webb said he understood the Co-op scheme was not in deficit and that the majority of the funds’ investments were in the traditionally more secure bonds market. On that basis the reasons given for the drastic move seemed to have shaky foundations, he added.
The Co-op has said they intend to implement a new ‘career average’ scheme from April 2006. The T&G, which has members across ACC, the Co-op’s transport arm, as well as the Co-op Funeral Service, stressed their view that the announcement was the first step in a consultation process and not the final word.
“Our transport members have made it clear they will do all they can to keep the pensions they expected to take them into retirement,” added Mr. Webb. “The Co-op’s warm words were cold comfort. They cannot expect us to take this without a fight.”
New measures to help people build up pension rights
The changes in the Occupational Pension Scheme regulations will mean that, where a member leaves an occupational pension scheme with at least three months qualifying service, but with no right to a pension from the scheme, they will be entitled to receive either a cash sum to be transferred to another pension scheme, or to a refund of their contributions. The choice is the member's. Currently, people are usually only entitled to a refund of contributions.
Stephen Timms said:
"At present, people who stay in jobs for short periods of time can find it difficult to build up pension rights. Normally all they get now is a refund of their contributions. The measures we are introducing will give such people, providing they have been in the scheme for at least three months, an additional option.
"They will be able to have a cash transfer sum that can be moved to another pension scheme. Alternatively, they can take the contribution refund if they so want.
"This will provide more of an incentive to build up pension rights than currently exists. If the member decides to take the cash transfer sum then they will benefit not only from their own contributions to the scheme but also those of the employer.
"We estimate that between 30,000 and 50,000 people a year will benefit from this."
Notes to Editors
1. The new Occupational Pension Schemes (Early Leavers: Cash Transfer Sums and Contribution Refunds) Regulations 2006 are made under powers in the Pensions Act 2004, and come into force on April 6, 2006.
2. A scheme with vested rights has to provide a pension to the member unless the pension rights are transferred elsewhere. In some schemes, pension rights vest immediately, but in others the member has to belong to the scheme for a certain period before rights vest. The maximum period before rights vest is two years.
3. The new measures for early leavers are contained in Chapter 5 of Part 4 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993 and in the Occupational Pension Schemes (Early Leavers: Cash Transfer Sums and Contribution Refunds) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/33).
4. The Department undertook a consultation on the draft regulations. The formal Response to the Consultation is also published today and is on the Department's website at http://www.dwp.gov.uk/consultations/2005/index.asp
5. The department has also today published the Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Consultation by Employers and Miscellaneous Amendment) Regulations 2006.
17 January 2006
1. Fire Brigades Union press release 10 January 2006
2. Department for Work and Pensions press release 11 January 2006
3. Transport and General Workers' Union press release 11 January 2006
4. Department for Work and Pensions press release 12 January 2006
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