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Treasury urged to change tack ahead of two pension court cases

The battle over pensions discrimination is far from over despite ministers pledging to support women. Two court hearings will decide next steps say campaign leaders.

Unless the government changes course it will be back in court to answer claims for discrimination, police pension campaign leaders have warned.

The Treasury has been urged to abandon plans to create a single pension deal for the public sector or face more legal action.

Its remedy to the 2015 changes that were ruled as discriminatory by the courts will still leave officers disadvantaged because of the deadlines and limits being imposed.

Leaders in the battle with ministers over pensions and pay have warned the government it now has two chances to change course over its botched reforms.

PC Lee Broadbent, who is one of the officers leading the pensions challenge, told Police Oracle: “They wanted one single pension scheme that ran right across the public sector. The government departments are looking for a whole system approach and this is where it fell down the last time.

“There were specific problems for policing that haven’t gone away,” he said.

Unless the Treasury changes tack, female officers will be discriminated against because they won’t be able to make up time lost due to caring responsibilities.

And officers in physical roles will be forced to accept lesser pensions when they retire.

There will be two critical court hearings in November and December. The first brought by a coalition including the Police Superintendents’ Association, will decide next steps for both sides.

The High Court will rule next month on whether the government can press on with plans to push the officers affected by its reforms into schemes - and close some schemes to new members.

The action covers the government’s remedy period from April 2015, when the reforms were implemented, to 31 March 2022.

The government wants all eligible members to be given a choice between legacy and reformed scheme benefits. For the majority of members that choice will be made at retirement, when it will be clearer which scheme is most beneficial to each individual. This is known as a deferred choice.

But the government is using the Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill – currently going through Parliament – to implement the changes and close schemes to new members by April 2022.

But the pensions challenge leads, who are representing 18,000 officers, say women who have taken time off to have children will be unable to make up the time for their pensions, unlike their male colleagues.

PC Broadbent said: “We’re still going to have a position where there is ultimately sex discrimination. This is at a time when the government says it wants to help women and girls.”

This has been raised for months by pensions leads including the Federation and PSA. But after negotiations became deadlocked, the PSA have resorted to the judicial review which will start on 16 November.

The government argued the case could only be heard after the Bill had received Royal Assent, but the court ruled against then saying that by then a judicial review would be academic. 

PC Broadbent warned that if the reforms go ahead, immediate claims for discrimination would be lodged by a united group incudling the Fed and PSA. That's a big change from the decision by staff organisations not to challenge the original reforms.

He told Police Oracle; “The clock starts from April 2022 as there’s three months minus one day to lodge a claim if you believe you’re being discriminated against. It would be naïve of any organisation to not think this could happen – and reckless not to protect members interests.”

The other deadline is a court hearing in December to begin settling the personal injury claim caused by the government’s changes. It covers the loss of career prospects and stress. 

A deal has already been agreed with judges out of court.

The second hearing will deal with the pensions challenge members but not the 18,000 Federation members who are part of the second group of claimants.

Concern is mounting that the government will disadvantage Federation members by refuting that the first settlement sets a benchmark for other claims.

Signs of a shift are not looking good. The first meeting between the Home Secretary and PSA President Paul Griffiths - after it abandoned the pay review body and launched its legal action - was described as “productive” but did not lead to any official commitment to change.

The Police Federation is also getting ready to step up pressure on the government to resolve pay. All options are being explored, according to a Fed source.

It is starting with a fresh demand for the government to announce a replacement for the PRRB.

Fed Chair John Apter said: “It is only fair the PRRB is urgently replaced by a pay mechanism which properly takes account of policing interests and is not manipulated by the government.

“It is time therefore for the government to do the right thing and Protect the Protectors.”

The government has already been warned in Parliament to expect stiff opposition from peers when legislation reaches the Lords.

Former actuary Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab) said: “Concern has been expressed by various groups of employees, most notably the police service and firefighters, that the specific way in which the remedy is being implemented has an adverse effect because of their particular past pension structures.”

He added: “We must carefully consider the use of Treasury directions. It raises constitutional issues that must at least be clarified.”

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