Defined Benefit  

Judges and firefighters win pensions court case

Judges and firefighters win pensions court case

A group of judges and firefighters have won a court case against the government, as changes made to their pension schemes have been considered discriminatory.

Both cases were ruled together, as they dealt with similar issues and had previous contradictory outcomes.

In a ruling handed out yesterday (December 20), the Court of Appeal said that the government discriminated against the two groups on the grounds of age, race and equal pay in relation to changes to their pension.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said that this was “a landmark ruling” in its dispute with the government over changes made to firefighters’ pensions in 2015.

The firefighters’ pension scheme was substantially worsened in 2015, the union stated, since "older members could stay in the existing and better pension scheme, and younger members had to transfer to a new and worse scheme, causing huge financial losses".

The FBU initiated more than 6,000 Employment Tribunal claims alleging that the changes amounted to unlawful age discrimination.

Under the new scheme, firefighters would not be able to retire before reaching the age of 60.

If members chose to retire early, at the former pension age of 55, they would see their pension would be reduced by 21.8 per cent, the union said.

According to Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, the firefighters “fought a long and arduous legal battle to show that these transitional arrangements were unfair and discriminatory”.

He said: “The government has wasted tax payers money on this legal case. The government must now take swift and tangible action to address this unlawful policy.”

Law firm Leigh Day represented a group of 230 judges, in a case also concerning transitional arrangements put in place between the old and new judges’ pension that, the claimants say, discriminate against them based on age.

Since women and ethnically diverse people in the judicial system tend to be younger, they also claimed there was indirect discrimination based on gender and race.

Before April 1 2015 the judges were all members of the Judicial Pension Scheme (JPS), a defined benefit scheme established after the Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993. 

This was closed on 31 March 2015 and serving judges were transferred into a replacement scheme, the New Judicial Pension Scheme (NJPS).

Transitional provisions were put in place, which allow older judges to remain members of the JPS, either until retirement or until the end of a period of tapered protection, dependent on their age. 

FTAdviserreported in November that the government had appealed against a previous ruling in favour of the judges.

Shubha Banerjee, solicitor at Leigh Day, said: "We are extremely pleased with today’s judgment which upholds our clients’ grave concerns about the discriminatory effect of the changes that a previous Lord Chancellor made to their pensions in 2015. 

“Many public sector workers including judges had been working towards and planning for their retirement based on membership of their former pension scheme, only for those plans to be completely disregarded once the government’s discriminatory changes were brought in.