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Firefighters and council leaders warn of more legal action over pensions

Another High Court writ could be heading to the Home Office over the pensions fiasco.

In a rare display of unity, local government leaders and the Fire Brigades Union told the Home Office and the Treasury they weren’t prepared to delay settling deals with people affected by botched pension reforms that were ruled as discriminatory in the McCloud judgement.

It follows the Home Office’s decision to withdraw guidance on how to settle cases which includes reitring police officers affected by the same public sector emergency service pension reforms. The Home Office warned it wouldn’t fund any agreements made now and that people affected should wait until October next year.

But the FBU has obtained a court judgement which ruled that the government has had long enough to come up with guidance for employees retiring now.

And now the Local Government Association and FBU have issued a joint letter making clear they have no intention of waiting until October next year to settle pensions cases - with the FBU ready to go to back to the High Court again.

“We cannot express strongly enough our continued frustration at the government’s failure,” they said. “Affected members are those who have, or are, taking benefits prior to the implementation of remedy legislation and therefore could face an immediate detriment.”

The Fire Brigades Union and Local Government Association had worked together to agree a joint framework to implement the 2018 Court of Appeal ruling but were stymied by the Home Office decision to withdraw guidance.

The government has claimed that calculating the tax positions of thousands of people is the main reason for the 2023 date.

The LGA and FBU are having none of it. They argue that the government simply needs to give them the pension settlement they originally signed up for.

When the Police Superintendents’ Association took the government to court last autumn, judges warned they would view the government as simply repeating the discrimination that was found in the original judgement.

The letter reminded the Home Office and Treasury of the judgement: “The claimants in any new proceedings will claim that they are entitled to damages that place them in the same position, net of any tax, that they would have found themselves in if there had been no discriminatory treatment (as did the Claimants in the proceedings that have already been issued and settled).

“If we assume that the court determines the claim in favour of the claimants and grants the relief sought, at best…that would mean having to pay compensation in respect of any additional tax charges and then spending very considerable administrative time and expense seeking recovery of the tax paid from HRMC.

They added: “We do not however see any issues with the immediate payment of pension arrears or arrears of lump sum for those within 12 months of leaving and would be grateful for your support in making such payments.”

The PSA has argued that the Treasury is using legislation to impose a settlement.

The FBU and LGA have told the government that the work done as part of the Parliamentary process means they can move to settlement now.

They said: “With the Finance No 2 Bill gaining Royal Assent it is entirely within the gift of HM Treasury to bring forward regulations to authorise the payment of lump sum arrears beyond 12 months of leaving and we would ask that this is progressed as soon as possible.”

If not, it means the government will be facing the FBU’s legal team plus the Police Federation, PSA and Leigh Day who are also planning fresh claims for discrimination.

“We do not accept Treasury and Home Office delays in abiding by the decision of the court,” said Mark Rowe, Fire Brigades Union national officer.

“The FBU never misses a meeting or any opportunity to fight for those suffering immediate detriment to have their pensions paid to them right now. We continue to meet regularly with the LGA and our respective legal teams to resolve this matter as quickly as possible for our members. There must be no further delays.”

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