Union success in a judicial review of government plans to scale back the civil service compensation scheme (CSCS) could delay the implementation of the changes, but will not necessarily stop them.
The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), the senior civil service union FDA, and Prospect union have announced they will seek a judicial review of planned cutbacks to the CSCS after accusing the government of failing to seek a previously promised negotiated agreement with the unions on the form of the changes to be made.
In a bid to save £500m over the next three years the government plans to cap redundancy packages at a maximum of two years' salary for employees earning £25,000 or more - civil servants who have worked for 20 years at Whitehall are currently entitled to three years' pay. People who rejoin the Civil Service after receiving a severance payment will have to pay some of the money back.
The PCS said government ministers pledged to reach a negotiated agreement for the CSCS cutbacks with the unions, but have subsequently cancelled four meetings in the past two months.
Stephen Hocking, partner and head of the public law team at Beachcroft law firm, told Personnel Today: "If the unions win the judicial review it doesn't mean the changes can't be imposed at all, it just sets the clock back. The government would have to sit down with the unions and try and reach an agreement."
But Hocking added the government could defend its actions during the judicial review, and renege on any promise it is alleged to have made regarding a negotiated agreement, by arguing that it would never have been possible to reach an agreement between the two sides.
He said: "The trouble is if the government has a good reason for changing its mind then they can do that. The questions for court will be: was the union actually promised the meetings they say they were promised? If they were, has the government got a good enough reason to now proceed in another way?
"If the promise was to reach an agree