Firefighters go to court after ‘letter aimed at blocking pensions’

Firefighters go to court after ‘letter aimed at blocking pensions’
(Pexels/Damian Ruitenga)

The Fire Brigades Union is preparing legal action after it received a letter intended for chief fire officers, which it described as an attempt “to block firefighters receiving the pensions they are legally entitled to”.

In April, the union raised the possibility of taking the government to court in a bid to win compensation for members affected by the McCloud judgement.

Members affected by the ruling, which found 2015 reforms to the judicial and firefighter pension schemes unlawful on the basis of age discrimination, are said to be those who have taken or are in receipt of benefits before the implementation of remedy legislation, which the campaigners said could see them “face an immediate detriment”.

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The Local Government Authority wrote to the government in April on behalf of the FBU and Fire Rescue Authorities deploring the lack of a solution for members until the expected arrival of legislation in October 2023.

It sent the government a similar letter in November 2021 in an attempt to stop the cost of the remedy falling on members.

An agreement, however, was reached between the FBU and the LGA in October 2021, which according to the FBU allowed for immediate detriment cases to be dealt with now without waiting until October 2023. This has been met with opposition from the government.

The union informed members on June 6 that its head office had anonymously received a letter sent to all chief fire officers by the National Fire Chiefs Council, advising against applying immediate detriment before the legislation is implemented next year.

In response, it will now register immediate detriment claims through the courts for every FBU member who it said was being denied their full pension. The issue is understood to affect around 1,400 people.

‘Significant consequences for schemes’

In its circular to members, the union said that “many members” have had their pensions claims paid in full under the agreement between the FBU and the LGA.

According to the FBU, the opening paragraph to the letter highlights correspondence with the Treasury in March, which the NFCC said “clearly advises services not to be applying immediate detriment prior to legislation being in place”.

“HM Treasury’s view remains that processing immediate detriment cases before all the necessary legislation is in place could give rise to significant consequences for schemes, pension scheme members and services,” the letter continued.

The letter acknowledged, however, that decisions over immediate detriment cases lay with individual scheme managers. 

The FBU claimed that some FRAs have ceased paying immediate detriment cases after having received the letter.

“Chief fire officers need to look after their people,” FBU national officer Mark Rowe said.

“It beggars belief that – in the middle of a cost of living crisis – the NFCC is proactively seeking to keep retired firefighters’ pensions down via a letter they don’t have the integrity or courage to make public.

“This letter makes an already difficult situation even worse. It places another barrier in the way of firefighters receiving the pensions they deserve. It’s disgraceful that currently retired firefighters, some of whom have retired on grounds of ill-health, are less likely to receive the pensions they are legally entitled to.